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Posted on Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 11:06 a.m.

Ann Arbor independent booksellers say new shop faces big challenges

By Ben Freed

While local bookstore owners are welcoming a new player into the downtown area, not all of them are optimistic about Literati Bookstore’s future success.

Bill Gillmore, owner of Dawn Treader Book Shop was blunt in his assessment. “I think they’re doomed,” he told Concentrate Media.


Literati Bookstore plans to move into Rick Snyder's former Ann Arbor campaign office in March.

Melanie Maxwell | file photo

The new owners have been soliciting advice from their soon-to-be fellow booksellers, Aunt Agatha’s and Nicola Rooney, who owns and runs Nicola’s Books in the Westgate Shopping Center, Concentrate reported.

Owners stressed that the key to making Literati successful will be to create a community of book buyers who will come back to the store for their purchases. The increase in Internet sales has made it tough for brick-and-mortar stores to survive, but stores in Ann Arbor have realized some success by specializing and making their stores destinations rather than just shops.

Literati has leased space at the corner of Fourth Avenue and East Washington Street and is currently working on minor renovations to the space and moving in shelving. According to the store’s blog, Literati hopes to open in early March.

Ben Freed covers business for You can sign up here to receive Business Review updates every week. Reach out to Ben at 734-623-2528 or email him at Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2


Gene Alloway

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 9:09 p.m.

I think that a book shop that is focused, with unusual books and good staff can thrive, even in this market. NY Times bestsellers are everywhere for sale at low prices, so shops can't count on them for any profit, so focused and targeted is better. Also, while Amazon and ebooks are important issues, but I think the largest problem right now is simply the economy. Commercial rents are high, and middle class wages lower. Upper scale books may have a stronger audience. As for ebooks tho - most people buy both. People who want a more permanent copy, or an well illustrated one, buy a hard copy. Some folks buy ebooks only for travel, and print the rest of the time. So knowing your clientele is key. And I bet these folks have spent some time thinking about that.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 1:58 a.m.

I sense that the competetion are shaking in their boots..... This new bookstore will be a big hit... Time will show.


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 10:28 p.m.

Bill Gillmore and others are telling the blunt truth, which most of us probably know but aren't saying: what Literati has isn't a business model, it's a Hail Mary pass. They're not looking to open a conventionally viable business in a field with a proven track record, they're doing something they love, and hoping that the community will value it enough to support it even against their own economic self-interest, because we think our city should have businesses like this. The joke goes "How do you make a million dollars in the bookstore business? Start with two million." Except it's not really funny. If we don't get behind these guys, they are indeed doomed, and how quickly they're doomed depends on how deep their pockets are.


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 8:49 p.m.

Hard copy from Amazon. I used to frequent area bookstores to browse, but they just don't offer the connivance or selection that Amazon does. E-readers are out of the question for me. I don't every aspect of my life dictated by the flow of electricity. It has also been shown that subjecting you eyes to light from electronic displays just before going to bed (when I read the most) leads to disrupted sleep patterns.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 2:59 a.m.

No, an autocorrect slip. I meant to say convenience.

Linda Peck

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 10:11 p.m.

Westfringe, I agree with you about the electricity and digital glow effects. I love a printed book in the evening, especially since I do not watch television.


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 10:11 p.m.

"connivance"? -- was that a freudian slip?

Kellie Woodhouse

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 8:40 p.m.

I wonder what Crazy Wisdom owners think? I think they've developed a great niche and vibe there. I think this new bookstore could work if it really develops a personality, like Aunt Agatha's. but also expands a little beyond books, like Crazy Wisdom.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 6:29 p.m.

Crazy Wisdom is not really what I would consider a book store, it's a lifestyle store. That's why they're still there.

Jaime Magiera

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 8:31 p.m.

I'll have to dissent from the negative comments here. I've being going to Dawn Treader for over 25 years. I also briefly worked for Bill when they moved across Liberty. Bill is a gruff, but playful, person. He was pointing to the difficulty of the situation. In terms of customer service, I've never had any problems - including with the newer employees who don't know me. Book selling is a hard business (some friends and I ran a sister store of Davids Books, which we opened in Ypsilanti back in the early 2000s). You have to deal with lots of people asking random questions that are lacking in information "Do you have that one book by that one guy?...". Cut them some slack. In terms of Literati, I wish them luck. The overall advice is true... create a customer service base of book buyers who will continue to return. Ann Arbor does have a substantial number of bibliophiles. If you appeal to them, they will return again and again.

Jenn McKee

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 8 p.m.

Really, really looking forward to this store opening. I've missed browsing a store that has a variety of brand new titles during my lunch break.


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 7:04 p.m.

Having known Bill for years, I don't think he's trying to drive them out of town. I think he's just like that. His stock is used-only, so I don't think Literati is competition. Bill's just a gloomy guy on the subject of the bookstore business.

Jaime Magiera

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 8:32 p.m.

No, BIll is right where he should be. Also, consider the number of years that Dawn Treader has been in business. Bill, and his crew, are highly intelligent about books and understand how to make the business work.


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 7:40 p.m.

Perhaps he should find another line of work. No one likes a gloomy proprietor at any store.

Tom Joad

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 6:29 p.m.

The less than sanguine assessment given by Mr. Gillmore may well prove right. I only buy digital for the simple reason. I can make the font bigger and thus easier to read. Also, on anything but a novel a search function and digital index is essential. Physical books had a nice run but unless you're a book hoarder they just collect dust sitting on the shelf. Realistically, paying retail for a book is antithetical to being thrifty and purchasing it on Amazon at a markedly reduced cost. Opening a bookstore may capitalize on the demographics of a more affluent student population living in luxury high rises but that group alone would not be enough to sustain bookstore. While it's laudable new addition to the downtown, as a business endeavor just don't think it's going to work out in the long run.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 2:38 p.m.

The problem is that the kind of books that these stores sell are exactly the kind that people read on a screen, books consisting of all text. The books that don't work on a screen, primarily math and science, are not the kind of books that these stores sell.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 1:32 p.m.

Hope to prove you wrong.


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 6:24 p.m.

It would be nice to see this bookstore do well. With the closing of Borders, that was three Ann Arbor-area general bookstores we lost. I may be old-fashioned, but I don't think I could ever get used to reading on something like a Kindle. I would love to see Schulers Books, a Grand Rapids-based indie store with locations there and in the Lansing area, open up a store here.


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 7:41 p.m.

Rent is probably too high here for a Schulers.


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 5:43 p.m.

I have yet to read any coverage of Literati (including their own blog, as well as the Concentrate Media article linked at the end of this story) that discusses what their inventory will be. Are they going to focus on a particular segment (or segments) of the book industry, or do they intend to be a general bookstore?


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 5:42 p.m.

I agree Upper-Decker, but hope that folks will actually buy books there and not just read and relax. A lot of people bemoan the fact that there is no longer a good newspaper/magazine store downtown. There used to be one right on Main St., but with too many people reading, and not enough buying, it didn't have a chance.

Jaime Magiera

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 8:34 p.m.

Main Street News. Oh man, I miss that store. Also, I miss Community News Center very much :(


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 5:36 p.m.

Harsh. Sounds like the other stores are trying a fear based approach to run them out of town. All I know is they better have a place to relax, read and drink coffee.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 4:30 p.m.

I agree with pretty much all of these comments, there is a line where between having the relaxing place to read and then the business of actually selling the books. I just miss having Borders around!


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 5:11 a.m.

If you want coffee go to a coffee cafe. They are selling BOOKS. If you want to relax, read and drink coffee go to starbucks and bring your own book.

Jaime Magiera

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 8:35 p.m.

They are not trying to run anyone out of town. They are trying to be honest. Honesty is the best thing right now. It will make it clear to the owners of Literati how dire the situation is. In terms of "relax, read and drink coffee", how about "Buy, Relax and Drink Coffee"?


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 7:44 p.m.

Oops, that means the homeless will camp out there, as they did in the Borders main location. Bookstores are going to have to figure this out, because it drives away customers who will actually purchase books if they also have a chance to sit and read a while.


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 5:29 p.m.

If not the library, then online and almost exclusively used. i.e. half dot com.

Jaime Magiera

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 8:37 p.m.

The thing about online is that you miss out on the experience of a bookstore: the smell, the discovery of things you didn't even know you were interested, the interactions with other people, etc. There is a real value to brick-and-mortor bookstores.

Lizzy Alfs

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 6:14 p.m.

@BernieP: I agree about the library. Since I started my savings plan late last year, I have been using the library for books. The last book I purchased was JK Rowling's newest...and I spent $32. I usually like newer releases, but those are never available without a waitlist at the library. Instead, I will figure out some best reviewed or top sellers from 2010/2011 and try to get those. I did just finish A Hundred Years of Solitude, though.


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 4:41 p.m.

Over the years I've bought lots of books. Really don't want a Kindle, prefer to read on paper. However, lots of my friends have gone "Kindle" and they rave about it. I'm not at all tempted, but I truly believe electronic (or should I say "digital?) literature is coming at us like a Speeding Train. Tie in your book purchases to Homeland Security snoops and what does the government have? A: A peek into your mind! Consider "hate crimes." What if you're a history student and studying pre-WWII Germany, and you down load Adolph's "My Struggle." Oops, we better send an agent to knock on this guy's door, some computer wonk govt employee declares. Far fetched? You tell me where our culture will be 10 yrs from now, when the citizenry is trapped in a gigantic spiderWeb.


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 5:47 p.m.

Piney, I'm with you. Kindle Schmindle!


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 7:22 p.m.

Kind of like how when spreadsheets went digital, the government suddenly had access to all of your expenses. Or when word processing really took off, how the government can now go and steal your work. I'll bet your entire book collection that you are never visited by Homeland Security because you decided to make a purchase on your Kindle.


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 4:28 p.m.

^ *accurate


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 4:26 p.m.

Bill Gillmore: "I think they're doomed". This would appear to be a more accurare reflection on his problems with his existing business, rather than a new business that hasn't even opened yet


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 2:32 p.m.

He's probably right though. The odds of a small independent bookseller being successful today are pretty slim.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 5:04 a.m.

Agreed. I used to go there as a kid but I once asked said owner if he wanted to take out an add in our school year book. He went on a this rambling speech about how he hated my school and insulted me because of it. I never went back. I can't believe this guy is still in business.

Jessica Webster

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 8:11 p.m.

We've always had great luck with customer service at Dawn Treader. And my kid loves digging through the architecture section. Bill's negative comments aside, I do love shopping at his store.


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 7:46 p.m.

My experience was the same in Gillmore's shop, rude customer service. Never went back after a consistently negative experience a few times. Maybe Mr Gillmore needs to find a new line of work where he will be happier. Negativity from the boss spreads through a staff and permeates the atmosphere of any workplace. A retail shop of any kind needs positive, upbeat staff.


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 7:20 p.m.

Nice to know I'm not the only one. Customer service goes a long way. I stopped going there last year sometime, when I asked a yes or no question about a book and felt as if I was this HUGE inconvenience. It was not the first time, so I just go online now so I don't have to deal with the rudeness. I understand that the negative attitude toward book markets is likely the cause, but I wonder about the kind of success Gillmore might find by not only expanding online, but engaging and developing better relationships with his customers and community.


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 6:58 p.m.

Agreed. I've attempted to go to the Dawn Treader to find and buy books, however the store looks like a tornado has gone through it (I'm honestly surprised that it hasn't been shut down by the fire marshall), it smells of mildew, and the employees are simply put rude and unhelpful. Good luck to Literati, I hope they succeed. I've been looking for a decent replacement to Border's and the superb customer service that they always provided. Maybe that will be Literati?