New bookstore to join competitive Ann Arbor market

By Aaron Guggenheim, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 10, 2013

On the corner of Washington and Fourth streets, several blocks away from an empty building formerly leased to Borders, a dark-green building will soon become the home of the Literati Bookstore.

The 2,600 square foot building — empty since last being used as the office for Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s 2010 campaign — will open sometime before spring, according to owners Hilary Lowe and Michael Gustafson.

Lowe and Gustafson are repurposing old shelves from Borders and are not doing any construction in the store before it opens. Because of the turnkey setup, Lowe and Gustafson are cautiously optimistic about their ability to open the storefront within two to three months.

Both owners spent years in the publishing and writing industries, but moved to Ann Arbor in July to begin opening the store.

Lowe said she and Gustafson decided that in the absence of Borders, it was the right time to open a bookstore in Ann Arbor.

“The book market is rapidly changing and evolving,” Lowe said. “Small bookstores have been able to pick up the market that Borders left.”

Lowe added that although online retailers like Amazon offer stiff competition to independent bookstores, she believes Ann Arbor has a strong enough market to support another entrant to the market.

“We can’t provide the discount pricings of Amazon … but (we can provide) a superior customer service experience,” she said. “We can (also) try to carry as diverse an inventory as possible and pinpoint what the community needs.”

The Literati Bookstore will join several other independent book retailers in the downtown Ann Arbor area such as Aunt Agatha’s, the Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room, the Dawn Treader Book Shop and the West Side Book Shop.

Robin Agnew, co-owner of Aunt Agatha’s, a bookstore that sells new and used mysteries, said she’s excited about the opening of another independent bookstore.

“It is a good synchronicity … it gets more book shoppers downtown,” Agnew said.

Agnew said her store had its best year in 2012. She added that Lowe and Gustafson have the potential to be successful if they limit their variety of titles.

“They might have a good match if they can keep it lean and mean,” Agnew said. “Ann Arbor is one of the better (book) markets … I don’t know what is happening long term, but I’m enjoying the moment.”

LSA senior Jessica Chick said she was looking forward to the arrival of Literati because she prefers purchasing and reading physical books over the plethora of digital media available from online retailers like Amazon.

“I’m from a small town, so supporting local businesses is a huge thing for me,” Chick said.

Keith Taylor, coordinator of the University’s creative writing program, said in an e-mail that having downtown bookstores was important because it fosters a sense of community among readers.

“Those of us who love to read books talk to each other,” Taylor wrote. “It can be a very important part of our lives.”

Taylor added that he spends large amounts of his money and time in bookstores around Ann Arbor and that he intends to become a regular at Literati if it has meaningful events in addition to a desirable book supply.

“I will discover things there. I will certainly purchase things there. I will hang out there,” Taylor said. “I only hope they won’t have to ask me to leave.”