One year ago, we signed a lease to open an independent bookstore in downtown Ann Arbor. At that point, we had been searching for a space for roughly 6 months, with a few hiccups along the way. But we had three storage units filled with Borders bookshelves that we were planning on re-purposing, we had a business loan in place, and finally, we had a lease.
With one stroke of ink, our lives quickly accelerated from 15 mph to 90mph. Since signing the lease, we worked around the clock to try and establish ourselves downtown. We opened March 31st, and it’s hard to believe we’ve only been open 9 months. Just yesterday, I was talking to someone about how we’re planning a one year anniversary party/weekend. And she said, “Wow, it seems like it happened so fast!”
This year has been filled with many, many ups, and a few downs. But who wants to focus on the downs? Here are the best moments of 2013, a year of many firsts, learning experiences, frustrations, and joys…
5. Our first reading event with Keith Taylor.
The first event we planned was Friday, April 5th, also the same night as the Lantern Parade/Festifools downtown. We really had no idea what to expect. We had been open 5 days, and things were going well, but we had never organized an event before.
About 100 people came. It was hot and sweaty because we hadn’t learned how to circulate air in the basement. We only had 25 chairs (we now have many more). But Keith gave a beautiful reading, and to this day is our most successful event. While Hilary attended the reading, I was with family carrying Literati Lanterns around downtown Ann Arbor, and I couldn’t count the number of people who came up to me and asked, “Are you the new bookstore?” When I returned to the store, there were a hundred people inside, it was chaos, and I just remember thinking with a smile, “Thank You, Keith Taylor.”
4. Opening the first box of books.
Nothing will ever be a more surreal moment than getting that first shipment of books, opening them, seeing them, holding them, and shelving them. It was that first moment of, “Finally….real books!” We had been in construction for months and had been in lease negotiations for what seemed like decades, and to just return to what we were passionate about, books, was a great feeling.
3. A pen pal relationship between a werewolf and a 7-year-old.
When we first put out a public typewriter in our basement, we didn’t really know what to expect. We knew some people would type on it, leave quotes, notes, and anecdotes. We even had one couple type out a marriage proposal on one of the typewriters, which was completely awesome and beautiful.
What we didn’t know was that the typewriter would foster a pen pal relationship between a 7-year-old named Logan and a werewolf a.k.a. a local celebrity, the Violin Monster.
It began with a simple note written by Logan:
Then Violin Monster snuck into the store and responded:
Then began something totally unexpected: A pen pal relationship. They exchanged a few notes:
(To which Violin Monster responded that he would be at the Farmer’s Market…)
Then on Halloween, Logan came into the store dressed as his hero, with a real violin, and a very awesome mini howl “AAAWOOOOOOOOO!”:
All things said and done… this was unexpected, and too cute to handle. Violin Monster and his newest protege, Violin Monster Jr., eventually met at the Farmer’s Market, and this photo was the result (taken from Violin Monster’s FB page):
For now, Violin Monster is in New Orleans for the winter… but we look forward to seeing him again next spring and hopefully maybe hosting him (and Violin Monster Jr?) for a concert over the summer…
2. Recommending books.
Running a bookstore isn’t just about books. Accounting, cleaning bathrooms, shoveling sidewalks, doing payroll… there’s so much to running a business besides books. So when the opportunity comes to recommend a book to someone, that’s what we love. That’s why we’re doing this — to talk about books, recommend the books we love, and talk about what customers like or didn’t like.
Hilary’s favorite moment comes when a customer came up to her and didn’t know what to get. So she recommended a book, then the very next day, the same customer came back.
“I loved that recommendation so much, I read it in one night… and now I need something else!”
I remember recommending The Circle to a reader, who came back and we talked for thirty minutes about the future of social media. Another person just a few weeks ago said to me, “I came in and though I usually don’t buy books, I bought Train Dreams on a whim because it was recommended by you guys, and a few weeks later, I was fishing on the Kootenai River, and I just couldn’t believe the coincidence! It’s a book I never would have bought. I guess I need to be visiting more bookstores!” We live for recommending books… this is why we do what we do, and it’s every bookseller’s favorite thing. Please never hesitate to ask us for recommendations. That’s the best part of the job, it’s what we love doing.
1. The pre-opening support.
While the opening was wonderful, it was really the pre-opening support that meant the world to us. There were a fair share of skeptics, but many more book lovers reaching out to us on social media and offering words of encouragement.
This article written by Jeremiah Chamberlin accurately captures the opening process and weeks before we welcomed our first customer. Those weeks were filled with anxiety and midnight work days and the only thing that really kept us afloat was all the wonderful support by you, Ann Arbor. I remember when the Ann Arbor News wrote an article about us potentially coming downtown. And a fantastic and beautiful Ann Arborite left this comment:
“I hope they do NOT put a book store there. You see, I am an addict and if they put a bookstore there, I not going to have any extra money and my house will be filled with books to the point where I might have to make pathways in the living room made of books.”
Another great moment was when we first opened. I was sitting in the basement, and I overheard someone say to another person:
“This is the best day.”
Not “of the month” or “of the year”. Just “This is the best day.” And that comment has been in my head ever since.
The fact is, there have been too many wonderful moments to fill on this blog, too many great conversations and overheard comments and typewriter notes and events that we just can’t include on a blog. From cheese and coffee events to live music (Jeff Pianki, thank you!) to the Zell Fellow Reading Series to Halloween Costume Contests to the C-SPAN interview to the hoisting of the Literati sign to hiring the best staff a new bookstore could ask for… there are just too many moments to list. But these were just a few that filled our hearts this year. And as we look forward to 2014, we are thrilled to have been given this huge boost by the community to keep going…
Because where there is passion for people and support for those who create, spread, and embrace the written word, there will always be an audience for independent bookstores. As we enter a new future where books may be delivered by flying drones and factories filled with robots sell you books based on algorithms, we are excited about where we’re at and what we’re doing. We’re hiring local people. We’re collaborating with local businesses. We’re supporting local writers. We’re paying local taxes.
People all the time ask us how we’re going to compete with Amazon in the future, and I always say, “We can’t. And we don’t plan to. We’re just a different business.”
And we are. We believe in bringing people together and creating a space for people to surprise themselves. For people to come downstairs and type on a real typewriter. For people to see other people in the community they haven’t seen in decades (it’s happened.) For people to propose on our typewriter (it’s happened.) For people to write to local werewolves and create a pen pal relationship (it’s happened.) For people to sing and dance and share poetry and stories.
Thank you everyone for a great 2013.
Hopefully, with your continued support, there will be an even better 2014.