Sunday, November 10, 2013

Literati Bookstore: Bringing Ann Arbor's Community of Readers Together

Hilary and Michael Gustafson are building a community of readers in Ann Arbor with their bookstore, Literati.  The town has long been known for its literary culture formed by writers, readers, students, and academics.  The University of Michigan helps Ann Arbor attract a rich community of scholars and writers who inspire each other and the city around them.  That is what Literati Bookstore aims to enhance and enliven with their downtown store.

Literati may not be Ann Arbor's only bookstore, but they are the only general, new bookstore in the walkable downtown area.  Nicola's Books offers great independent press books.  West Side Book Shop offers beautiful antique and used books.  Aunt Agatha’s sells mystery and detective novels, Vault of Midnight offers anything a comic lover could want, and a handful of other stores offer specialized selections and used books.  All of that adds to Ann Arbor’s strong culture of readers, but Literati is the first general bookshop to open since the town lost two other major stores a few years ago.  Literati’s owners have carefully curated a wide selection of fiction, poetry, children’s books, non-fiction, local favorites, young adult, mystery, fantasy, and more.  Literati has it all.

Literati opened its doors in April, 2013 and quickly found that Ann Arbor was just as welcoming as they had hoped.  As co-owner Michael Gustafson put it, “The difference was a punctuation mark… When we told people anywhere else that we were opening a bookstore, they’d say, ‘A bookstore?’ But when we told people in Ann Arbor, they’d always say, ‘A bookstore!’”  Michael and Hilary knew Ann Arborites would be excited about their business, and they were hoping that excitement would make their big investment a big success.

Building a Community

They certainly have tapped into that excitement by creating a space that lets their customers interact with each other and engage with their books.  They’ve placed Scrabble tiles for patrons to leave little messages to each other and the store.  The Literati logo is a vintage typewriter, mirroring one of their best touches - an open typewriter that is always loaded with blank paper.  Visitors can sit in the colorful basement, enveloped by carefully curated books and write anything they want.  People have left poems, epiphanies, confessions, jokes, and even letters on the typewriter that Michael carefully maintains.

Hilary and Michael shared that the local Violin Monster (a very talented violinist who performs on Ann Arbor’s streets in a monster mask) and a young boy named Logan became friends through the typewriter.  For weeks, they exchanged messages, and a friendship formed.  Logan is now the official Violin Monster Junior - violin and all.

The Perfect Place for a Small Business

Ann Arbor is more than a literary community; it is a city that strives to support local entrepreneurs and business owners.  “People are really into buying local here - they really want to support their local businesses,” says Hilary Gustafson, co-owner.  As the owners have seen, people in Ann Arbor are excited to shop local, stay local, and talk local.  That is part of why Hilary and Michael strive to involve so many local authors by holding readings and talks in the store’s basement.  

Megan Levad, MFA, is the Associate Director of the University of Michigan MFA Program and the Director of the Zell Visiting Writers Series.  She recently gave a reading at Literati and said of the store: “I think that Literati has done a great job already of curating their selections for our particular audience--which includes University professors and students, of course, but also a highly literate community of readers who are interested in being challenged by new literature.  It is an honor and a joy to share my work with those readers, and I look forward to hearing from other writers in that shared space.”

Readings are almost always well-attended by locals, students, and fellow authors.  These readings give local and visiting authors a chance to showcase their talents and personalities, while meeting locals and signing books.  Authors like Megan Levad, Doug Trevor, Keith Taylor, and Ray McDaniel give local flavor and bring energy into Literati.  The store also brings in children’s authors for fun and interactive activities with their youngest patrons.

The Power of Buying Local

Buying books locally does more than support a single store or a single owner, it affects the community around it.  Locals are employed and enjoy the benefits of events, readings, and excitement a store can build.  Literati has already employed quite a few locals in their store - even pulling experienced employees from the former Borders and Shaman Drum stores.  They are dedicated to having knowledgeable, well-read staff who are always ready to help shoppers find the perfect book.  

Literati’s owners have discovered that Ann Arbor is a place where creativity, community, and engagement thrive.  Ann Arborites are, in turn, discovering that Literati is a perfect place to continue building a community that is friendly, innovative, and full of ideas.

Literati Bookstore
124 E Washington St - Corner of Fourth Ave & Washington St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48104

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