Publishers Weekly named Literati Bookstore its 2019 Bookstore of the Year on March 28.
Literati was announced in February as one of five finalists for the award, which honors independent bookstores nominated by those in the book industry. The award will be presented to owners Hilary and Michael Gustafson at BookExpo on May 30 in New York City.
Literati recently celebrated its six-year anniversary of being in business — it opened on March 31, 2013. Since then, the independent bookstore has made a name for itself with its public typewriter, cafe and the number of literary events it hosts.
Literati co-owner Hilary Gustafson said the nomination and award came as a surprise to the relatively new business owners.
“We’ve only been a business for six years, and typically the Publishers Weekly Bookstore of the Year is given to bookstores that have been in the business a long time, although some of the other bookstores nominated were also new,” Hilary Gustafson said.
Hilary Gustafson said she was excited to see Literati’s name on the nominations list among so many bookstores that are “doing innovative things in the industry.” She attributed the win to the bookstore’s staff over all other factors.
“Their expertise and commitment to the written word and love for books has really made our business what it is today,” Hilary Gustafson said.
Gina Balibrera Amyx, creative programs and floor manager at Literati, also emphasized Literati’s booksellers as a major factor in the bookstore’s success. Some of these employees previously worked at Borders, which was previously the main bookstore in downtown Ann Arbor before it closed in 2011.
“We have people who spent decades working at Borders … and we have a lot of poets and fiction writers on staff from the U-M Helen Zell writing program — so MFA students and graduates of that program — so people who are deeply immersed in that world and so they bring a lot of passion to the business as well,” Balibrera said.
Literati’s staff has grown from seven booksellers to 27 in the six years it has been in business. According to Hilary Gustafson, booksellers stock the shelves according to what they see customers looking for on a daily basis.
Hilary Gustafson also cited Literati’s social media presence and community engagement as factors that have led to its success in its short time in business.
“We do pride ourselves on being community focused in events and book clubs,” Hilary Gustafson said. “We have over 150 events a year, both in store and off site, and most of them are free and open to the public.”
One of Literati’s most well-known factors is the public typewriter in its basement on which visitors are free to leave notes. Hilary Gustafson said her husband and co-owner, Michael Gustafson, reads through the notes left on the typewriter every day.
“The public typewriter really invites the community to participate,” Hilary Gustafson said. “A lot of good writing comes out of it.”
Michael Gustafson published a collection of notes left on the typewriter last year with co-editor Oliver Uberti.
Those who frequent the bookstore were not surprised that the store was awarded Bookstore of the Year.
The coffee shop on the top floor of Literati attracts students as a place to study or write. According to Hilary Gustafson, many MFA students use it as a space to write. The Gustafsons invite visiting authors to leave notes of encouragement to such writers on the “author wall,” which is crowded with their writing.
The cafe does not only attract English graduate students. Many undergraduates use the space to work as well.
LSA freshman Julia Kravchenko said she and a group of friends spend about three to four hours working in the coffee shop at Literati every Thursday.
“Literati is special because it’s very quaint,” Kravchenko said. “It has a phenomenal atmosphere that’s the textbook definition of a coffee shop you would see in a movie or read about in a book, plus the music is always different each time we go depending on who’s working.”
Kravchenko said she thinks the Bookstore of the Year award was well deserved.
“From what I’ve browsed in their bookstore, it has a really wide variation of genres and books for a small store,” Kravchenko said. “I once found a Frankenstein Pride and Prejudice crossover work and I sort of lost it because I didn’t think that existed.”
University alum Sierra Bain said she spent a lot of time at Literati while earning her undergraduate degree.
“I feel like it’s a no brainer that it was named Bookstore of the Year,” Bain said. “I like the coffee shop upstairs, and I like the light in the space and how it overlooks our little town.”