Literati Bookstore opens its doors in downtown Ann Arbor
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This is no April fools joke.
With Good Friday, Easter, and April Fools Day all happening this weekend, the owners of Literati Bookstore in downtown Ann Arbor were hesitant to make an official announcement via social media, but the new independently-owned store quietly opened at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Washington Street on Sunday.
“We’ve been saying we’re ‘opening soon’ for a while now, so we didn’t want people to think we were joking,” co-owner Mike Gustafson said.
“And it’s just good to be able to have a slightly smaller crowd to work out little kinks that can happen with technology and other things when you first get going.”
By Monday afternoon a steady stream of customers were browsing the shelves of the two-story bookstore. Co-owner Hilary Lowe said the mix of shoppers who have come into the store has been a pleasant surprise.
“We had some preconceived notions about who our customers would be, but it’s really been all over the map,” Lowe said.
“We’ve had some people from the university come in, we had someone from Google who was very excited and said he was going to tell everyone in his office that we were opening.”
As the shoppers move from one shelf to the next, the likely are unaware of the extensive thought process that Gustafson and Lowe went through in arranging various sections in the store.
“It started out with just Mike and I laying it out, but we have three employees who are former Borders employees and they were often involved in helping move sections there so they were familiar with what goes where and how to make it flow,” Lowe said.
“Joe Gable, who was the store manager of the original Borders, also helped us out with the sectioning which was cool.”
Eventually, they settled on fiction, poetry, and children’s books upstairs, with the downstairs dominated by non-fiction, including a sizable biographies and memoirs section. It wasn’t easy to place every section though.
“I think cookbooks changed spots five times or so,” Lowe said. “First it was upstairs, then downstairs, then back up again.”
The books rest on shelving that was used in the old Borders flagship store with the section names written above them in chalk. Gustafson said the store will continue to evolve as it learns to meet the needs of the community.
“We left room in our inventory to grow with what our customers needs and wants are,” he said.
The store has a “suggestion list” for people to write down their favorite titles and help shape the store’s character.
“We have a lot of what we love and what our employees really like,” Lowe said. “Now we have a chance to really interact with the community and see what they’re interested in.”
Community interaction will be a major theme for the store as it attempts to swim against conventional wisdom that bookstores are a dying breed. The co-owners, who also are engaged to be married, said they want their store to be a meeting place for the community and plan to host a wide variety of events aimed at different demographics.
“We have kids story time, a picture book release party, a poet, and a non-fiction book event already planned,” Lowe said. “Keeping the mix of genres and authors will keep people here and bring in people who might not have otherwise visited.”
“Our next chapter is building our program to include more creative events beyond author readings and signings,” he said. “We’d love to have panels, and we might do a storytelling series with Moth.”
While they are excited about their store’s potential, the couple acknowledged that there are challenges unique to small bookstores. With a smaller available space and inventory, there will always be books that aren’t readily available on the shelves. Lowe said the store has already received a number of special delivery orders, and that their system can have the book in the store within three days as long as it is in stock at their distributor’s warehouse.
The co-owners both grew up in Southeast Michigan, and moved back to the area from Brooklyn “to start a bookstore to bring books back to downtown Ann Arbor,” according to the store’s blog.
Lowe said the first book sold at the store once it officially opened was a novel by Nicholson Baker.
“It’s called The Anthologist, and it’s one of my favorites,” she said.
“It’s about a writer who is trying to write the introduction to a poetry anthology but he’s having a trouble getting it just right. In a way it was kind of fitting for it to be our first sale.”
Literati Bookstore is located at 124 E. Washington St. on the corner with Fourth Avenue. Though the hours are not yet set in stone, they are operating at this time from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and slightly longer hours on the weekend. For further information on events check the store’s website and Facebook page.
Ben Freed covers business for AnnArbor.com. You can sign up here to receive Business Review updates every week. Reach out to Ben at 734-623-2528 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2