To all the bookstores we’ve loved before

Wednesday, October 2, 2019 - 12:58pm

Kaitlyn Fox

Kaitlyn Fox Buy this photo
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Bookstores are more than just retail shops — they are sacred spaces where profound ideas meet curious thinkers. When I walk into a local bookstore, I’m overwhelmed and excited by the endless shelves full of new stories and ideas. I’ve discovered some of my favorite books in local bookshops and often peruse them when trying to decide my next read.

Independent booksellers have spent years trying to keep their businesses afloat with the rise of chain bookstores, and local owners are now facing new challenges as more readers are turning to Amazon or e-readers to satisfy their literary appetites. Most readers choose these digital alternatives for ease, but in doing so sacrifice the ambience and community of their local bookshops. Despite these obstacles, Ann Arbor is still home to a varieaty of independent bookstores that continue to serve the local community.

Dawn Treader, one of the oldest bookshops in downtown Ann Arbor, has been selling used books since 1979. While its exterior gives off the impression of a quaint, nook-sized shop, a walk through the store will take longer than you might think. With its winding, maze-like aisles filled top to bottom with books, you can find anything from your long-forgotten childhood series to your most recent favorites. Dawn Treader is a time capsule, offering some rare and valuable finds if you’re willing to embrace the hunt.

Another integral member of the Ann Arbor literary scene is Crazy Wisdom, a spiritual bookshop that also doubles as a tea room. The shop offers more than 14,000 books and is largely centered around naturalistic and alternative spiritual practices. Upon entering the shop, customers are immediately immersed in the ambience of Crazy Wisdom: a faint smell of incense and sound of live acoustic music performed over the noise of brewing tea. The store opened in 1982 and still serves the Ann Arbor community with events and their community journal featuring local writers. They’re also the only local bookstore offering a specific, holistic approach, making organic living more available to the local community. Although its a far walk for students living on campus, eager visitors still wait at the doors until the shop opens at noon, welcoming customers into their natural, serene atmosphere. 

One of the newest bookstores in town, Literati, has already seen great success in the six years they’ve been operating. They’ve earned the 2019 title of “Bookstore of the Year” by Publishers Weekly and published a book, “Notes From a Public Typewriter,” which includes blurbs from customers who’ve left notes on the shop’s typewriter. Unlike Dawn Treader or Crazy Wisdom, Literati possesses a more modern feel while still maintaining the coziness of a traditional bookshop. The wooden floors softly creak as customers stroll past the shelves of colorful titles, and hidden among the large array of books are handwritten staff reviews of favorite books in each section. 

Literati’s welcoming atmosphere extends beyond its physical attributes: the locally owned shop also gets the community involved in reading with author visits, book clubs and writing workshops. One of their goals as a business is to give to local charities, schools and nonprofits while also creating well-paying jobs for local employees. 

Although these local businesses are loved and cherished by students and Ann Arbor residents, their success relies heavily on the dedication of the community to their missions. For these local booksellers, the future of their businesses can seem uncertain as more people gravitate towards quick and easy means of obtaining their reading materials. The responsibility relies on us, the consumers, to support our community booksellers and boost the local economy. 

Stopping by a local bookstore, whether to purchase an assigned reading or simply take a look at what the shop has to offer, is participation in a sense of community that an online purchase just can’t replicate. A special uniting factor exists within a bookshop, one that sparks conversation among strangers and draws people in from all backgrounds and experiences. There’s a very specific kind of fiery passion felt from reader to reader, and while it’s hard to put a name to, it’s a feeling understood by all bookstore-goers. Even though the future of online bookstores and e-books looms overhead, there’s a stronger element of community found amidst the uncertainty of paper, and this collective hope will be enough to sustain our beloved bookshops. 

— Kaitlyn Fox, Daily Arts Writer

I first fell in love with bookstores at age seven in a Barnes and Noble. In our dingy Monmouth County New Jersey mall, we have — at least, for a seven year old — a kingdom-sized Barnes and Noble. My mother would often have to lay out ground rules before we went inside when I was little: Only one hour, no straying too far into the YA section before you turn ten, you’re allotted three books or whatever $50 can get you. These rules and those rainy Sundays in Barnes and Noble made me fall in love with physical copies of books — holding them, paging through them and, most importantly (and perhaps most strangely), smelling them. 

Going to a new place for me always means visiting a new bookstore. Every good town has a good independent bookstore. It is the beating heart in the center of a place, it is the community gathering spot, it is the lifeline to which towns operate and thrive. I have hunted down the bookstore in every single place I have ever visited. It’s because I deeply care about paper. It’s because I deeply care about stories. It’s because with my tiny contribution to an independent bookstore, I can ensure that I’m supporting a concerted effort to keep print alive. To keep books alive. When the Kindle and Nook fad began, I was devastated. I understand the comfort and ease with which we can tote around our electronic devices, but what about the romance and the infatuation that comes along with annotating the margins of a worn copy of your favorite novel? Or reading and rereading a paragraph of an excellent short story, flipping back and forth through the same pages? 

The first independent bookstore I can remember falling in love with is in Manchester, Vermont. It is called Northshire Books and is the only reason I will ever go on a ski trip with my family. The promise of this bookstore, about three stories high, with an appropriately placed coffee bar and the most genuine booksellers I’ve ever met, make the six-hour drive north worth it. It was here I completed my collection of all the “Harry Potter” books and purchased my first ever collection of R.H. Sin poetry. 

When I visited Ann Arbor for my first time, my father bought me a classic bound Walt Whitman book at Literati before I’d even been there. He was wandering downtown by himself while I was on a tour, and I remember how excited he was to take me there and watch me discover Literati myself when the tour was over. Four years later, whenever I’m having a bad day or something difficult happens to me, I go to Literati. It has become the cavern of words and stories that soothes and coaxes my worst of days. I’ve been there so often that sometimes my past self leaves a surprise for my future self with the store credit that racks up from every purchase I make. I’d also like to disclose that the coffee at Literati is the best coffee in Ann Arbor. 

My house is on River Road in Fair Haven, New Jersey. Half a mile walk up River Road is one of my favorite places in the world: River Road Books. It’s the place that instilled in me the love for independent bookstores and booksellers. I spent a great deal of weekends in my childhood leaning up against the counter asking the booksellers, women from my tiny one square mile hometown, to recommend me books. 

After my sophomore year of college, I moved to St. Louis by myself for an internship. I knew nobody in Missouri and was incredibly lonely. When I needed someone and nobody was there, Left Bank Books was there. I rode my bike to the corner bookstore at least twice a week, and next to it was a Jeni’s, meaning I always left with words and ice cream. 

Recently, I took my mother to Crazy Wisdom for the first time. We were standing in the first floor and I was going on and on about a book display that featured a few new releases I’d recently read and adored. I was also gushing over the gluten free treats in their tea room up the stairs. She looked at me and said, “I don’t know, something in me thinks you’ll aspire to opening your own bookstore.” I thought about it for a second: How simple yet how happy I’d be with my very own bookstore where I’d turn on the lights every morning, prescribe people books all day, and lock up at night. It’s because I care about stories. It’s because I care about words. 

— Eli Rallo, Daily Arts Writer