As a former Borders employee for eight years, I have very strong opinions about bookstores and their place in today’s world. So much so, that I even blogged about the Borders liquidation process here and here. My love for books and the sense of loss I felt when Borders went under are two reasons why I became so excited when I found out about the new bookstore, Literati, opening in downtown Ann Arbor this year. In case you haven’t walked by the new location, it’s opening in the former Rick Snyder campaign office on Washington.
Until last week, I’ve been taking a more passive, and silent, approach to following what they were up to as they prepared to open their doors to the public, but after this article on Concentrate Media was posted, I knew it was time to be passive no longer. Since I can’t support Literati in the form of buying books in their store right now, including them in my Friday Five series seemed to be the next best thing.
Literati co-owners Hilary Lowe and Mike Gustafson
Thankfully, Literati Bookstore co-owner Mike Gustafson had a bit of time to step away from it all and sit down to participate in this week’s Friday Five. After reading my little mini interview, make sure that you follow the further adventures of the Literati Bookstore by reading their blog, liking them on Facebook, and interacting with them directly on twitter.
Welcome to the neighborhood Mike and Literati! Also, thanks for already providing lots of great book recommendations to us!
1) Taking a cue from Bill Gilmore of Dawn Treader, are you doomed?
We are doomed. There’s no way around it. The minute we open our doors, fire and brimstone will hail down from the heavens onto anyone who dares enter our store and buys a book. RIP Literati, 2013-2013.
We understand the financial risks involved with opening a bookstore. We’re still going for it. We believe in our business plan, and we believe in the book culture that exists here in Ann Arbor, and we believe we know how to market ourselves in the digital age. Are we going to make millions of dollars and swim in piles of gold like Scrooge McDuck? No. Are we going to find our niche in the downtown area? We believe we will. The market is changing, but there are many, many people who absolutely demand to read real books – ourselves included.
And these physical book readers aren’t Luddites terrified of technology. They make active choices to buy real books from real bookstores. So many people of different ages and backgrounds have approached us and said, “I love to read physical books. Thank you for opening a bookstore downtown.” Their reasons to prefer real books are vast and different, ranging from the way books feel to how they can search for new books in bookstores the way you can’t with Amazon to how it allows escape from the screens and emails and bells and whistles of tablet devices. We believe downtown Ann Arborites want a place to peruse books, ideas, biographies, memoirs, literary fiction, journals, magazines, children’s books, etc, etc. We believe people downtown will visit our store, and we believe we add just one more aspect to what is the best downtown district in the Midwest.
But it’s funny. After we read that doom quote, we said to ourselves, “Shoot, we should have named the store ‘Doomsday Books’ or ‘R.I.P. Books.’” We still like Literati, though.
2) In all seriousness though, you’re moving into a city that is still mourning the loss of Borders. What kind of support have you seen from the community?
The community support has been overwhelming. When we uploaded a blog post stating that we (finally) signed the lease, that post alone had a few thousand Facebook shares. It went locally viral. Then we told people about how we repurposed the Borders bookshelves the day before the Liberty store went into demolition, and many Borders lovers and workers reached out to us with positive messages. We were quickly overwhelmed in a very good way. So many times throughout this opening process we’ve have mental anxiety attacks like, “Are we really doing this? Are we really opening a bookstore?” We’ve been boosted by all the Facebook, Twitter, blog, and email messages of encouragement we’ve received from the Ann Arbor community. We’re excited to open our doors so we can meet these digital supporters face-to-face and smile-to-smile. The support from the community has been just wonderful, and we haven’t even opened our doors yet. We just ask the community to be patient and not to compare us to other wonderful institutions like Borders or Shaman Drum because we could never fill those very large shoes. Please be patient if we have some unsmoothed ruffles when we first open. We can never replace Borders or Shaman Drum. We are just trying to be Literati, and I think we’ll have our own unique and cozy store to offer to the community.
3) I’ve always found that every book lover has that one book or one experience that starts them off on a path to being passionate about reading. What’s yours?
Let The Great World Spin was the kind of book you finish and set down, and stare at the ceiling or wall for hours in deep meditation and contemplation. It was so powerful and so moving, it still sticks with me today. Ultimately I love books that are metaphorically sticky — those books you just can’t get that particular protagonist out of your head. But that was more recent. Probably the first book that set me down the path of passionate reading was Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. In college, I wasn’t a passionate reader. Reading seemed like a chore and a bore. Then someone gave me this book and said, “Read this.” It opened my eyes to what reading enjoyable fiction can be. Not all “meaningful” fiction has to be James Joyce or Faulkner. Cat’s Cradle is so accessible, but simultaneously so powerfully moving, I think I read it at the perfect point of my life, and I’ve been hooked on reading ever since.
For Hilary, her book was, Too Loud A Solitude. It’s a wonderful little book about a man and his obsessive, beautiful love for books. Every sentence is a beautifully constructed string of words in that book. Every book lover should read this book.
4) What book are you looking forward to selling the most?
Every reader is different, so every book recommendation is different. We can’t recommend the exact same book to everyone. So here are a few: For nature lovers, I can’t wait to recommend, A Sand County Almanac. This book changed how I see my Midwestern backyard. For sports lovers, The Art of Fielding or Zen in the Martial Arts are both equally great, for different reasons. For people who want to learn a new activity, it’s Drawing from the Right Side of your Brain. (I was a horrible drawer. Then I read this book, and now I’m only just a very bad drawer.) For kids, it’s Marcel the Shell (with a strong message for them to YouTube the wonderful animated videos) and A Sick Day For Amos McGee. And my all-time favorite book to recommend is probably The Polar Express. Everyone over the age of 10 has already read that book, but when new parents come to our store and buy it for their newborns, I don’t know. The first time a new parent walks into our store and purchases The Polar Express, I might get misty eyed.
5) Do you have any special grand opening festivities planned?
We want to have a very soft opening, and then a more announced opening a few weeks later. Probably a big party. We will make more announcements in the coming weeks. If anyone reading this wants to support us further, please go to and support our Facebook and Twitter pages. We’ll continue to make announcements there as we solidify details. All I know is that when we open, when it actually happens, after all these months of 3am work-nights and complications and anxiety attacks and waves of euphoric enthusiasm, that in itself, for us, will be a huge accomplishment. This isn’t just a bookstore for us. Like any small business owner, this is now our livelihood and lifestyle. We’re getting married in June. 2013 is a great big year of scary and exciting and wonderful new things for us, and we’re so fortunate to do it in this supportive community and this great state we both grew up in.
Bookshelves are going in – Fans of Borders Store 01 on Liberty may recognize them (copyright – Gustafson)