By Dawn Wolfe
ANN ARBOR –
One of downtown’s newest businesses has more than 1,500 Ann Arbor-area Facebook “friends” and a blog that has seen more than 2,000 hits – and it’s not even open yet.
What is this business that has made such a large, local social media splash? Perhaps ironically in the age of e-readers, the business is called Literati Bookstore – and it will be downtown Ann Arbor’s first general bookstore since the close of Borders in 2011. According to the Literati blog, the closing of Borders was one of the events that convinced Hilary Lowe and her “fearless fiance and business partner,” freelance sports writer Michael Gustafson, to come back to Michigan from Brooklyn to open their store.
“I was deeply saddened upon hearing that Shaman Drum was closing in 2009,” wrote Hilary in the couples’ first post on the Literati Bookstore blog in July 2012, “and even more distraught to learn of Borders’ closing nationwide, which was headquartered in Ann Arbor. 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, an 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?'”
The “engaged, intelligent community” in question seems to agree wholeheartedly. As of the deadline for filing this story, 907 people were listed on Facebook as talking about the Literati Bookstore page out of the 1,605 subscribers. Posts on the page are highly popular with more than 400 “likes” being common.
The excitement is carrying over into “real life,” too – during a recent interview with BTL, Lowe and Gustafson said that they have already had several would-be customers stop by hoping to shop while the two are still putting books on the shelves.
According to the couple, a January story on the news site http://www.AnnArbor.com was the spark that started their local social media presence. “The social media has been huge,” Gustafson said. “It’s created a plunge that’s been totally effective; we’ve spent zero dollars on traditional advertising.”
Lowe is quick to add that the couple plans to support local print advertisers in their second wave of publicity after the store opens some time in early April. “We want to support the local publications that have been good to us – and we don’t want to rely on another company’s (i.e. Facebook’s) marketing to promote our business,” she explained, and added that not everyone who would like to know about the Literati uses social media to get their news – including one of their current employees, who heard about the new store from a friend.
It only takes a few moments spent on the couple’s blog or in conversation to realize that Lowe and Gustafson are committed to making Literati Bookstore a true community asset, including to the area’s other bookstores. The couple purchased shelving units from the old downtown Borders, and they are quick to explain that they are avoiding stocking items that customers can get from other downtown booksellers.
“We don’t want to carry a big LGBT section (because that would compete with LGBT bookstore Common Language), or carry a lot of books on spirituality because Crazy Wisdom has those,” Lowe said. “We’re being careful not to stock mystery titles being offered by Aunt Agatha’s, either. That doesn’t mean, for example, that we won’t carry items that are linked to the LGBT community in some way – but we’re here supporting each other instead of cannibalizing the same market.” Likewise, Literati will carry only new titles so as not to infringe on the business of the area’s used bookstores.
So what will their new store carry? “There’s a real lack of general fiction, literary fiction, history and kids’ books downtown,” Lowe said, “so we’re focusing our efforts there as well as on magazines, newspapers and cookbooks.” She added that Literati will be the only downtown bookstore offering new children’s titles.
Gustafson said that he and Lowe are devoted to supporting the local economy by hiring only local people to work at the store as well as local artists and printers for decorations and marketing materials. “We’re really trying to stay local with everything we do, or at least make sure the things we’re buying are made in the U.S.,” he said.
“It’s not the cheapest option to do it this way, but it’s the right thing to do.”