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
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 AT&T and USA Swimming, the governing body of competitive swimming, writing articles, blog posts, and creating videos. Michael grew up just outside of Grand Rapids.
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.