Welcome!

Hi there!

This is the beginning of our blog, tracking our progress toward opening a bookstore. We hope to use this space to write about the process – to keep family, friends, and potential customers (!) abreast of our developments. Check out the “About” section for a brief intro. Below is a full rundown.

Who We Are

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Hi, I’m Hilary Lowe – book lover, crazy-cat-lady, and former sales rep from Simon & Schuster. I grew up in Ann Arbor (Huron High School Alum – go River Rats!) and went to Scripps College (small women’s college outside of L.A.) where I studied politics & international relations. After spending some time in D.C. I realized I’d rather pursue a career in line with my passion for reading. I moved to NYC and started off as an assistant at Simon & Schuster, where my phone number was the company-wide direct line for author orders. Over the years I changed roles at S&S and most recently was a sales rep managing over 80 accounts, most of which were independent bookstores all across the country.

Michael Gustafson is my fearless fiance and business partner. He’s a book lover, crazy-cat-man, and freelance sports writer and video producer. Mainly, he contracts with USA Swimming, the governing body of competitive swimming, writing articles, blog posts, and creating videos. Lately, he’s busy with the lead-up to the Olympics, but he’ll be posting on here as well in the near future! Michael grew up in Lowell, MI, just outside of Grand Rapids. He’s a former collegiate swimmer himself (Northwestern) and a rabid college football fan, having attended hundreds of Michigan & Northwestern football games with his parents (both Michigan alums) and a few Rose Bowls, too. (Though none for Northwestern. Frowny face.) He’s also writing a novel about his fish-out-of-water experience living in the “grunge” district of the Sunset Strip, and it’s “The Next Great Unpublished American Novel” -(Mike’s description).

The Story

We are both avid book readers and unabashed lovers of the written word. We always talked about opening a bookstore in a “one day” sort of way. We always thought we’d return to Michigan to do it, but were unsure in what way.

I was deeply saddened upon hearing that Shaman Drum was closing in 2009. And even more distraught to learn of Borders closing nationwide, which was headquartered in Ann Arbor. The city lost three stores including the downtown flagship, which was an anchor to the downtown scene. Most recently, one of the campus bookstores, Michigan Book & Supply, closed their doors as well. Ann Arbor is lucky to have many wonderful niche bookstores downtown including Aunt Agatha’s, a mystery specialty store, Crazy Wisdom, a spiritual bookshop, Common Language, a LGBT bookstore, and a few great used and antiquarian stores. Nicola’s Books, a few miles outside of town, is a great independent. However, in the walkable downtown area there isn’t a general bookseller.

We thought, how can an engaged, intelligent community such as this be without a general bookstore in their downtown? How can a vibrant downtown with restaurants, clothing boutiques, art galleries, theaters, bars, and a university campus to boot, NOT have a general bookstore as part of their cultural fabric.

So Michael and I said, what if we opened an independent bookstore downtown Ann Arbor? What if we took the leap?

How We Got Started

Working as a sales rep for indies, I credit those wonderful stores for sparking the idea to open my own store. I saw all of their passion, hard work (LOTS of hard work), and determination and was truly inspired. These amazing book lovers go above and beyond everyday to make sure books reach the hands of readers – they are unwavering in the face of tough competition, but they make it work because of their dedication to the written word.

So naturally, the first thing I did was reach out to a local bookseller. Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene, Brooklyn opened in 2009 and is an exemplary model for a successful bookstore. I thought they’d be a perfect store to learn from. I wanted to actually work in a bookstore – doing the day-to-day – to see if I’d even like it. So my fabulous fellow sales rep Stu Smith put me in contact with Rebecca Fitting, co-owner at Greenlight. She was immediately so gracious and willing to help. Both she and general manager Alexis sat down with me to have a frank discussion about the process to opening a bookstore and every day challenges of managing it. Soon after, they had me working on the floor during the holiday season – shelving books, working the register, learning the point-of-sale/inventory management system, and helping customers. I was hooked. I knew this is what we had to do.

The next step was to get down to writing the business plan. This took many months of research. And we’re still not done. I didn’t mind tackling the part where we have to write about what we envision and how/why we think it can work, but the financial analysis and data was way beyond my bookish vocabulary. I poured over books, comparable business plans, took classes at the library, and free courses at CUNY Baruch. We’ve also enlisted the help of my dear friend Caroline, who is headed to Tuck this fall and, until recently, reviewed business plans as part of her job at a microfinance firm. She’s helping to give feedback on our financials, which is beyond helpful.

Where We Are Now

On July 25th we’re packing up a UHaul and heading to Michigan. Once we get there we’re going to start looking for a physical space. We’ve scoped out a few locations online, but we really need to be there to see for ourselves what spots would work best for our plan. Once we find a spot we’ll start the lease negotiation process, figure out the buildout required, work out final quotes. During this part of the process we’ll also apply for a small business loan for the rest of the capital we need for opening.

All this being said, we’re taking our time to do this right. We want to make sure we find the right space, from the right landlord, to ensure our longevity. We want to create our bonds with other local businesses to see where we best fit into the downtown community. So we aren’t holding ourselves to unnecessary schedules, instead we’re working our hardest to make it happen as soon as we can, as best as we can.

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28 Comments

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28 responses to “Welcome!

  1. Hello! I heard about Literati while visiting the Blue Manatee in Cincinnati. I’m very excited at the possibility of a new indie coming to downtown Ann Arbor. Welcome to town! I can’t wait to hear more about your progress. Good luck with everything.

  2. Karla Thompson

    I worked for Borders, Inc. for almost 22 years in Store Planning. In a company wide effort, we opened up over 500 stores! How heartbroken we are to see our company close and the end to so many amazing stores! I wish you all the best in your quest to open up a bookstore. I say this selfishly but also because I know how much Ann Arbor needs it and will embrace you with open arms!
    Looking forward!
    Karla Thompson

    • Thank you so much for the support, Karla! We loved Borders, too, and we were heartbroken when they closed. We have been getting a lot of positive feedback from employees who worked for Borders, and we are so thankful for their support and well-wishes. We purchased 50 Borders bookshelves (from Store No. 1) that we will be using in our store. We’ll never be able to replicate Borders, but we love books and book people, and hopefully we can help enhance the book culture that already exists in Ann Arbor.

  3. Wow. I wish you luck. I always thought the old Kresge building (former MB&S) would be a fantastic place for a new bookstore, but it looks like we may get yet another walgreens there. Ugh. A literate town like Ann Arbor needs a real bookstore downtown. I remember the ORIGINAL Borders and that place was like no other. I hope that you are able to do this, as Ann Arbor needs it!

    • Thank you for the support, Mark. Growing up in Ann Arbor, I have so many fond memories going to the original Borders. You are right — Ann Arbor is a literate town. We’d love to help enhance the book culture here!

  4. Jaime

    Wow, just come across this via facebook. This is most welcome news! There has been a huge, growing void in downtown AA over the last couple of years with all the bookstores closing. Can’t wait for you guys to open up!

    • Thank you, Jamie! We were a bit surprised when all this publicity started happening yesterday! Apparently someone posted something on Facebook, and then AnnArbor.com interviewed us, and now Shelf Awareness and Publishers Weekly. We can’t wait for you to visit us!

  5. Hilary and Mike,

    This is great news. I love this blog and your idea. I am was a long-time Borders employee working in the Event Marketing department. And..Hello, Mike! I am a graduate of Lowell High School (way back a long, long time ago in 1984!) I still live in the Ann Arbor area, but currently work for a fantastic non profit literary organization based in Traverse City. Here’s to books and book lovers. I can’t wait to read more about your progress.

    Jill

  6. Molly Alden

    Come! Please! There is a huge void that we would love to see filled. Welcome. xo

  7. Nicole B

    Hillary and Mike, so excited to see how this develops. Downtown A2 desperately needs another bookstore. Even better that it’s an independent. Best of luck to you and looking forward to future updates.

  8. wow! open your bookstore asap! sooooo excited we’re going to have a downtown small bookstore!

  9. Jenny Weed

    Terrific! I’m so excited. I, too, worked for Borders both in stores and at the home office. I’ll certainly follow your blog and perhaps even apply for a job.

  10. Mary Jones

    This is absolutely marvelous! Downtown hasn’t been the same since Border’s closed. Welcome back to Michigan (and Ann Arbor), and thank you for taking the chance!

  11. Do you have a fb page set up so I can follow your progress there?

  12. Rhonda

    Good Luck! I’m so happy for you and grateful that you are opening a bookshop in downtown Ann Arbor. I worked at the Borders on Liberty Street, Wooden Spoon in Kerrytown, and Borders Arborland. All gone now. Ann Arbor needs you. – Rhonda Jensen, San Diego, CA.

  13. Sheila

    This is wonderful news! I hope your bookstore evokes memories of all my favorite indie bookstores–Book Soup, Midnight Special, Eliot Bay Books–on an Ann Arbor scale.

  14. no goddess

    I can’t wait!!! You know, there’s one thing no one in the (state?) has in stock, for browsers and buyers to peruse: art books, architecture monographs, and so forth. If you stocked at least the new DAP catalogue offerings, I’d be there once a week! Good luck.

  15. Laura

    I will be a regular customer as soon as you open the store. I wish you all the best in your exciting start-up!

  16. Shannon

    I’m so excited to hear about this store.
    If you need a Young Adult/Kids Book/Story-time expert Please let me know!
    Best of luck with the new bookstore.
    -Shannon

  17. Shannon

    Almost forgot, I worked for Border’s from 1999-September of 2011. I was my first job, I loved it, and miss it everyday. Can’t wait to see your store!

  18. Henry Aldridge

    Best wishes. I miss Borders and would definitely patronize your store and can recommend a great bookseller for you.

  19. Patricia Nelson

    I, too, went to Scripps College and was a bookseller for many years, now a publishers’ rep for university press. Literati would not be my account, but I have family near Ann Arbor and will look forward to visiting. Would love to talk about bookselling.

  20. David Malmquist

    Thank God you are opening a Bookstore in downtown A2. I will be frequent customer. We so need this in A2.

  21. Tasha Pohrt

    I cannot express how excited I am to hear of this news. My father was the owner of Shaman Drum, and I worked there for the final 9 years. Although an extremely difficult decision for my dad, it ended up being the best thing for him and my family.
    I wish you both the best of luck, and can not wait until your doors open!
    This is exactly what our area needs again. Congratulations and we look forward to meeting both of you soon!

  22. Pingback: Day 4: Poem/a/Day: A poet finds himself a long way from home | Lansing Online News

  23. Sophia Kugeares

    I CAN’T wait to visit your store in Sept. It’s just up the street from where I used to live (West Washington), where I dreamed of opening a bookstore, 40 yrs ago! Wish you the best of success in your endeavor. See you in Sept. I wish there was an express shuttle from Detroit Metro airport to your front door.
    Book Lover, Sophia Kugeares, Clearwater, FL

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