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A few favorite moments from 2014…

As we wrap up our first full calendar year, and the holiday season is behind us, we’ve had a chance to reflect. 2014 had so many great moments, unpredictable and wonderful, it was difficult remembering our favorites. Many of the moments are behind-the-scenes, like when Hilary was awarded a certificate by the Ann Arbor Police for stopping a robbery outside, or when we hosted a variety of authors on Small Business Saturday to work as “volunteer booksellers.”

Here are a few of the bigger moments that helped define this past year, though there are certainly too many to list:

5. Kind quotes from customers.

I was helping a woman last month with her book selections, and when I walked her out of the store, she turned to me and said, “I’ve never been here, but I’ll be back. This just feels … it just feels like Ann Arbor.”

Something about that comment, about that particular woman, a woman who had lived in Ann Arbor for 30-some years… I don’t know. It just really made me happy.

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Another moment came when a customer came in and said, “I got a tattoo of something I saw on your typewriter.” She showed me her arm, explained the story, and we re-enacted the scene and the tattoo of the word “love.” We have all sorts of great anecdotes from our public typewriter, but a tattoo? Definitely my favorite.

4. Celebrating our one year anniversary.

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On March 31st, 2014, we crossed a major mental milestone: Celebrating our one year anniversary. We knew the first year would be the hardest, most difficult year of our lives, filled with stress and anxiety and heart palpitations. And we also knew if we could make it to that one-year marker, we could make it to the two-year marker, and the three-year marker, and so on.

The weekend-long celebration was great: Hundreds of people came out to see tons of authors read at the all-weekend festivus. The weekend-long celebration was capped with a poetry reading by Ray McDaniel and Keith Taylor. It was a great way to conclude Year One.

A special bonus was that Hilary’s father surprised Hilary at the store. He flew all the way from San Francisco, and didn’t tell Hilary, walked down the stairs, and surprised her! It was a special moment.

3. David Sedaris reads at Literati!

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Sometime around March, we got an email asking if we had “interest” in hosting David Sedaris in our store. After a few minutes of internal freak-out, we of course replied to the email, “Why yes, that does interest us.”

We wanted David Sedaris Day to be very special, so we closed down. Based on the hundred or so people who showed up to purchase tickets the week beforehand, we knew there would be a big turnout for the signing line, but we really had no idea. Even though it was raining, around 350 people attended the event, and some even waited until 1am to meet David.

Afterwards, we received a very nice postcard from David praising John’s introduction and our “charming” bookstore. It was our first major event in the store, and though we learned a lot about line management, it was an intimate and unforgettably fun day.

2. When we announced our partnership with The Espresso Bar.

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Sometimes you come up with crazy ideas on-the-fly. Most the time, those ideas never go anywhere. But sometimes, they come true.

One day we were walking around and wondered, “Hey, wouldn’t it be neat to put a coffee shop upstairs? A place to do events and readings, so our lower level can be 100% dedicated to books?”

Several months and a million conversations later, we partnered with The Espresso Bar to add a new 1300 square foot space on the 2nd floor of our building. The space is still a work-in-progress, but we’ve been able to add a dedicated children’s section, curated book displays, and a seating area for coffee and events. I’m biased, but there’s just something nice about reading while sipping coffee, overlooking downtown Ann Arbor.

1. When Nick proposed to Kelsey.

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I’m a sucker for a good love story, but I never thought I’d actually see one take place in our bookstore. A few weeks ago, Nick said he was going to propose to one of our employees, Kelsey, in our upstairs space.  Nick and Kelsey love coffee shops and bookstores. It’s their “thing.” So when they go to coffee shops, she reads and he draws. Here was the plan: When Sandy brought them coffee, he’d play their song on the speakers. Nick would then wonder out loud how nice it was that they were playing their song. Then he’d show her his drawing, which would say, “Will you marry me?”

I think we were more nervous than Nick. He wanted me to snap a picture of the moment. The night before, I don’t think I slept. That morning, Sandy’s hands were shaking as he was making their coffee! We were all so nervous. The song began to play. Sandy delivered the coffee. Nick turned his notebook and showed her the drawing. Then he got down on one knee.

She said yes.

We clapped.

It was a moment I’ll never forget.

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Thank you all for an incredible year. We can’t wait to see what 2015 brings…

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Big news!

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Over the past two years, through our personal addiction to well-brewed caffeine, we formulated a friendship with Sandy, who owns the excellent cult-favorite The Espresso Bar. We both opened around the same time, and we quickly became fans of each other’s businesses. I remember the first month Literati opened and, in need of coffee, I walked into The Espresso Bar and saw a Literati bookmark taped to their coffee grinder. Since then, we have collaborated: We ran a ticketed Coffee Tasting event in our store, offered Espresso Bar coffee during our weekend-long One Year Anniversary Party, and we have each spent a lot of time in each other’s businesses. We have also watched each other’s respective business needs grow: When Sandy first opened The Espresso Bar, it was never really intended to be more than a pop-up shop. When we imagined readings on our lower level, we didn’t imagine how events would close off half our inventory (non-fiction) half the evenings we were open. We realized we shared one commonality: We both needed more space.

A few months ago, we thought, “Wouldn’t it be neat if we could somehow combine our businesses? To open a lively events space that included coffee and books?”

Thus brings us up to speed, and to our exciting announcement: Last Friday, we signed a lease to take over the top floor of our building! Sandy and The Espresso Bar will move in, serving primarily espresso and coffee, as well as some pastries. We will run readings and events upstairs on a floor with air conditioning (!), no creaky wooden floors above (!), beautiful exposed brick walls, and windows that overlook Washington and Fourth Avenues. Expanding to the top floor allows us to expand our inventory on our lower non-fiction level. Hopefully, we will expand science, math, philosophy, and psychology sections, add more books, and more curated book displays. Also, by expanding to the top floor completes what we believe is the final step of our store’s vision:

To be a place where people gather.

Early on, it became clear very early that our space was limited. The first floor was filled with books, tables, and displays. The lower level had a few tables, but we had to keep the space relatively open so we could host readings and events. We love the vibe of our store. But we also imagined it a place people could mingle, or, conversely, just wander into a corner of the store and sit and read. On nights when readings took place, this wasn’t possible. When there were readings, some nights, you physically could not get downstairs.

Now, we can add inventory and seating on our lower level. We can have a dedicated events space with a bigger capacity. And we can offer some of the best coffee in town, produced by people who are passionate about coffee and know coffee.

A little more on The Espresso Bar: Sandy shares our belief that a great community like Ann Arbor needs a great community space. In a short amount of time, he has quickly established himself as one of the best coffeemakers in Ann Arbor, not only because of a quality product, but because he takes the time to get to know customers, their favorite drinks, as well as providing a friendly, intimate, and personal environment. He has a rabid following.

By partnering with The Espresso Bar, we can afford to open a space that is mutually beneficial: We can have a dedicated events space, improve and expand our inventory, and Sandy can expand and grow The Espresso Bar. We can continue to enhance each other’s businesses, and hopefully be a great space for all of Ann Arbor.

We are really excited about this. We believe that this huge step will complete our store’s initial vision. We love books. And now, we have someone on board who knows and is passionate about the coffee business and who can enhance our readings and events. With this partnership, the entire building at 124 E. Washington will be a destination for anyone looking to surprise themselves, browse books, have a cup of coffee, and hear some of the nation’s top literary talent. We are so excited to do this, and so excited that we soon won’t have to say to people wandering downstairs, “Sorry, but there’s a reading going on…” when all they want to do is browse our psychology, cooking, or history section.

Sometimes I like to wander outside at night when the bookstore is fully illuminated. I stand there and I look at the lights and people mingling inside. Now I imagine the entire building lit up at night, with a reading upstairs, and people sitting next to the windows and sipping coffee and reading and writing and meeting each other. It is a vision that feels right in that it makes this entire building come alive, adds vitality to an already bustling street corner, and hopefully adds to the vibrancy of downtown Ann Arbor. We are so happy to announce that we are expanding to the top floor of 124 E. Washington, thrilled that Sandy and The Espresso Bar wants to be part of it and set up shop on that top floor, and hopeful that we will have a beautiful space for what we believe will be a special and beneficial partnership for years to come.

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A long overdue blog update…

There was a moment during last June’s David Sedaris reading when I looked around and thought, “Is this real?”

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Many people thought we were nuts opening a bookstore in a city where a bunch of bookstores closed down. And yet, here was this wonderful author who drew 350+ people (including people who waited outside at 2:30am for tickets) and was in the prime of his career reading at the store. It was a moment when I looked around and thought, “Hey, maybe we can actually do this.” Until that point, it had been go-go-go. We hadn’t had a chance to reflect, constantly moving, scanning, shelving… Then, we finally stopped and simply listened to David, my heart swelled with an immeasurable amount of thanks for everyone who had helped us get this far, this quickly.

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Since the David Sedaris reading (who was amazing and signed books until 1am), we’ve had a great summer. We ordered  some cool new shopping bags designed by the wonderful Samantha Schroeder (you can cut them out and make bookmarks with them!).

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We expanded our inventory and purchased new bookcases. We hired an Events Coordinator. We started new book clubs. Some of you may have heard rumors about expansion with an events space — more on that soon.

We also hosted wonderful readings and events. Some of those included critically acclaimed authors like Leslie Jamison (The Empathy Exams), Roxane Gay (Bad Feminist), and Celeste Ng (Everything I Never Told You). We hosted a huge Independent Press Day featuring several awesome independent presses like Two Dollar Radio, Short Flight/Long Drive, and Midwestern Gothic. We had a fantastic book signing at 826michigan with the great Dave Eggers.

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Photo: Chin-Azzaro Photography

We have fantastic events lined up this fall, too. We are fortunate to be the bookseller for the Zell Visiting Writers Series in partnership with UMMA. (Woooo!) There are Can’t-Miss readings scheduled, including the extremely talented Philip Stead, Chris Van Allsburg, and some off-site readings we’re thrilled about, including with U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass and the esteemed Mary Ruefle. We have fun stuff planned, including a concert and story time with Ann Arbor’s world-famous Violin Monster on Devil’s Night and another “Book Themed Halloween Costume Contest.” (See the below post for how awesome Violin Monster is.) We’re hosting an event for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month where we’re donating 100% of book sales at that event. We have a new “Feminist Book Club” that we host once a month. Whew! Lots going on. Please check out the full events calendar here.

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Speaking of events, it’s difficult for new bookstores to attract new and big authors. Which is why we’re sending our Events Coordinator, whom we hired full-time last winter, to New York City next week. John Ganiard, who does maybe the best introductions on the planet (including an introduction Sedaris said was the best he’d ever received), will be visiting various publishing houses to attract more authors to our store and to downtown Ann Arbor. Our events have been successful and well-attended. With a new events space, this will continue.

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We’re also working on expanding our inventory. Hopefully we’ll have more science, psychology, philosophy, and social science books and display tables on the lower level. We’ll be expanding our local section and putting it in a place where it will be featured. We want to create a “literary non-fiction” section in the lower level that combines memoir, essay, and lit-crit. Hopefully much of this will be done before the holidays. If not, we’ll have fun reorganizing during Polar Vortex 2.0.

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This fall, I hope you will see quite a few improvements and new things in the store. All of this is possible because you, Ann Arbor, have supported us. To be honest, Hilary and I said we will consider ourselves successful if we reach Year Three. Year Three was that seemingly “far off” destination when we’d have a strong idea how we were doing. Starting a business is (what I imagine to be) like having a kid. Year Three is when they are walking, talking, and can be functional on their own. (Slightly.)

We’re halfway there. But, now, we can see ahead of Year Three — a little further down the road. We’re constantly doing the daily things we need to do… things like returns and curating inventory and hosting nightly events. But we’re also looking down the road at Year Five, Year Ten, Year Twenty, and what kind of bookstore downtown Ann Arbor deserves. We’re planning for the future.

This strange and unforeseen “future” has only been possible to imagine because you have embraced us. We are by no means out of the danger-zone. The industry is changing, people are reading digitally, and the market is altering. But that market is also leveling out. People are, in some cases, returning to their independent bookstore and saying, “I am here because I want you to be here.”

Thank you, Ann Arbor, for your support and kindness and warmth. You have made it clear so far that, even though books and bookstores are a tough industry, this small downtown indie bookstore has more than a fighting chance.

Thank you.

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A Few Favorite Moments from 2013

literatisignOne 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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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Then Violin Monster snuck into the store and responded:

vmlogan(“Dear Logan, This week I will be at the Renaissance Fair. Next week, I’ll be at the market. Hope to see you. Love, Violin Monster.”)

Then began something totally unexpected: A pen pal relationship. They exchanged a few notes:

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(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!”:

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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):

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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.


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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. 

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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.

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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.

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Holiday hours, gift wrapping, and more!

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Meet Robert, our writer-in-residence.

NEW HOURS: We are open at 10am the rest of this month! We may continue staying open at 10am in 2014 if it’s successful, but at least for the holidays, we are open earlier! So, for any late holiday shoppers out there, we’ll be here at 10am!

A few more new things:

1. We are offering gift wrapping for book purchases! This weekend, the Children’s Literacy Network will volunteer their gift-wrapping services. Many thanks to BINC for volunteering their services and wrapping with us last weekend!

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Thank you, BINC!

2. We have a pretty awesome gift wall display! Jeanne our manager curated a fantastic wall display full of gifts for people you just can’t figure out — like the artist, scientist, or mixologist in your family! The gift wall is as you head down to our lower level, and each cubicle is broken up into category!

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Wall display of gift ideas!

3. Thanks to everyone who visited us on Midnight Madness and these first few weeks of holiday shopping! We had no idea what to expect, and we were thrilled with the turnout. (We will definitely have more hot cocoa in stock next year!) Be sure to check out our Facebook and Twitter pages for more updates as we head into the final days of the holiday gauntlet. 

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Midnight Madness

4. We have a new sign! Oliver Uberti, a local designer and artist, came up with the idea to hang large typewriter keys that spell out LITERATI across our storefront. Then we had to get the sign approved and built. We’re thrilled with the result, constructed by Grafaktri. We think it’s original and unique and perfect for the store.

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New sign… typewriter keys!

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We love our block

5. Gift cards & holiday cards! Just a reminder, for the picky reader you know, we sell gift cards of any amount. We also have seasonal cards and an exclusive selection of Literati cards — all designed by Ann Arbor artists! (The typewriter one, below, was based off my grandfather’s 1930’s Smith-Corona, which our logo was modeled after too!)

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Exclusive Literati cards designed by Melanie Boyle!

Thanks to everyone who has supported us this holiday shopping season. We’re so lucky to be here and in a community that has embraced us.

-Mike & Hilary & the rest of the Literati book ninjas.

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Thank you!

Thank you, everyone, who has supported us these past few months. Opening this store has been the best, scariest, most thrilling event of our lives. The warm reception from Ann Arborites has surprised us and motivated us.

Thank you to our staff. We have the best staff of any new bookstore in the country. They improve the store every day, and I don’t know where we’d be without them.

Thank you to our families. We could never have trekked this far without you.

Thank you to the passionate advocates of books and literacy here in Ann Arbor. Meeting so many passionate literacy advocates makes me realize that Ann Arbor is as much a Book Town as a Tree Town.

And, finally, thank you to everyone who has bought a book here. You’ve proven to us that this can work. Hopefully, we can play a small part in keeping indie bookstores alive in Ann Arbor.

We’re so thankful that we are here. Thank you to everyone who has helped make this possible, and for all your ongoing support.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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Book-Themed Costume Contest!

A cold, dreary, blustery Halloween couldn’t keep away our valiant Halloweeners, and our first-ever Book Themed Costume Contest was a huge success! We laughed, we cried, we were momentarily terrified… Hopefully this becomes an annual thing.

For those of you who don’t Like our Facebook page, here’s a recap of all the book-themed costumes:

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Old Man and the Sea

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Holden Caulfield

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Harry Potter’s 7 Horcruxes

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Violin Monster Jr. (Not book themed but too awesome not to include)

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The Paper Bag Princess

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Nancy Drew

Human Scrabble Board

Human Scrabble Board

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Edgar Allan Poe

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Curious George and The Man With The Yellow Hat (& apologies because we forgot to photograph a 3rd member of this party who dressed as Guinevere)

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The Wizard of Oz

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Amelia Bedelia

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Alice in Wonderland

So now the big question: Who won?

While we were blown away with all the costumes, ultimately, the decision came down to two: Curious George (because it was so incredibly endearing) and The Paper Bag Princess, because her bulldog dressed as the dragon was simply awesome. And while other costumes impressed us, like The Old Man and the Sea for their creativity and hand-made costumes (she made all the items on her dress, which were also book-themed), or the adorable Wizard of Oz costumes, these two took the cake.

So we debated. We agonized. And we decided on one winner:

The Paper Bag Princess!

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She covered herself in dirt, hand-made her costume using a giant bag from Stadium Hardware, and she ventured downtown in the rain and wind specifically to enter the contest. Paper Bag Princess, you are the winner of a $100 Literati Gift Card!

Thank you to everyone who dressed up, and Hilary and I both promise to have better costumes next year. (Those who came to the store know what we mean. “Uh, what are you guys again?” (We were a very poorly executed Frog & Toad Are Friends.))

Start planning for Halloween 2014, book lovers!

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