Last weekend, Hilary and I attended the Heartland Fall Forum, a book conference for Midwestern-based booksellers, authors, publishers, etc.. Our experience was much better than last year, when our Buick was broken into and we had no lease and no one knew who we were. This year’s show was phenomenal — we met many booksellers and learned a lot that can make us more successful. Also, people asked us how it was going. I’d say, “We just celebrated our 6-month anniversary!”
“Oh! When did you get married!”
Me: “…Three months ago!”
Then I’d back up and re-explain: We opened in April, got married in June. And we realized that our marriage and the commencement of the bookstore are pretty much indistinguishable at this point.
Now that we’ve completed this 6-month gauntlet of opening the store, getting married, and moving closer to the store, we can re-focus on Phase 2. The first and most important thing we had to do was hire a manager. I’ve heard that successful people surround themselves with people who are smarter than themselves. That’s what we did with our staff, and that’s what we did when hiring our manager, Jeanne.
Jeanne is a bookseller’s bookseller. Every day she makes the store better. She worked in the State Street Borders store, and she brings an incredible amount of experience, knowledge, and pure bibliophile passion to Literati.
That hiring was a big step for us—something we can continue to do if we continue to be successful.
As we look forward to and prepare for the holidays, I reflect on these past 6 months.
Since we were asked last weekend what’s surprised us about the opening of the store, here are 6 Surprises over the last 6 Months…
1. People have all sorts of reasons for buying books from us.
We hoped and guessed that people still want paper books from independent bookstores. What surprised us were all the customers’ reasons for buying from us. So many people pointed to the feel a book versus the feel of an e-reader. Others talked about “digital burnout”—something I relate to. I tell people we aren’t at war with Amazon, because we’re just different. We have to pay taxes. We pay rent downtown. We live here. We hire here. We’re a real bookstore with real people, not robots, and as such, we are just a different business that many people have supported these past 6 months.
2. Art Fair and home football games are bad for business.
While I’m sure these huge events bring in business in other ways on other days, these are our worst sales days, by far. We’ll continue to evaluate more creative things we can logistically do on these days, but football Saturdays, while exciting, are by far our worst Saturdays on record. Book mobile? Michigan-themed talks and events? Events for people who aren’t interested in football? The ironic thing is that, during the games themselves, there’s ample parking in front of our store. We have an event this Saturday during the football game with Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, a Newbery-award winning author. We’ll hope that people will come out and see this amazing author, despite the game.
3. Ann Arborites are writers.
If you’ve been into the store, you know we leave out a public typewriter. Anyone can visit and type notes, quotes, or general mumbo-jumbo. I try to keep the ribbon black and paper replenished. Sometimes we leave questions for customers like “Tell me a 6-word story” or “What’s your one regret?” Customers write amazing things. We upload good stuff on social media. There’s also very interesting and sometimes heart breaking darker stuff. One person typed a message after being dumped and about the futility of existence. Which I think underscores an interesting, unexpected thing about our public typewriter: It allows people a very small way to be published and heard. To be heard by someone else, or even just by a sheet of paper in the basement of a bookstore. I read every typed message—the confusing, the vulgar, the insulting, and the beautiful. My favorite one remains: “I am here with my mom. We complete each other because she is young at heart and I am an old soul.”
4. Poetry is our second-best section.
We didn’t see this coming. It’s the best surprise, and proof Ann Arbor has a robust poetry scene. Much credit is due to John and Russ, two outstanding poets on staff. We feel our poetry section is the best in Michigan. Our poetry events are well-attended by enthusiastic readers. Expect more to come.
5. Our staff.
Hard-working, smart, well-read, creative. We knew we hired well, but our staff has gone above and beyond the call of duty. They put so much thought into staff picks, events, recommendations to customers, and store upkeep… We’ve been thrilled so far, and incredibly lucky. We have people with years of bookselling experience and who are incredibly passionate about the written word.
6. Positive press.
By far, we thought our biggest struggle would be getting the word out. While we continue to get new people into the store, getting the word out has been easier than expected. Much of that has been because of the press we’ve had. Whether it’s been on the front page of the Detroit Free Press business section, or in Ann Arbor News articles, or websites like Flavorwire listing us as one of the best bookstore window displays in the world, in 6 short months, we’re catching our breath. Going forward, we think the biggest struggle will be to keep the excitement going. We’ll keep brainstorming ideas to do so, but so far, so good.
And this is because of you, Ann Arbor. We took a roll of the dice, and while there are many, many challenges ahead, we are still here.
Thank you. Six months down. Many more to go.