Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Bookstore Visits in the Detroit Metropolitan Statistical Area

This week I was in Michigan at a work meeting, and also had time to visit my friend Scott. In my free time, we did what I like to do best - visit other bookstores.

If you ask someone from Ann Arbor if the city is part of suburban Detroit, I think they'd say no, but I guess it is officially in the Detroit Metropolitan Statistical Area, just like Racine is part of Milwaukee. I don't consider a Racine author event to conflict with ours, so psychologically I think it is not Milwaukee. But I do know people who commute there and we do host school visits there so the long and short of it is that this can be argued for hours.

The store I was most hoping to see was Literati Books, just named Publishers Weekly Best Bookstore of 2019. It's in the downtown area, and sort of takes the place of both Shaman Drum and the flagship Borders store, both of which are now closed. The first thing I must say is that their outside sign, which mimics a typewriter, might be the most beautiful bookstore sign I've ever seen.

It's a three story store without an elevator, and I asked my friend Scott how they handle events, which are in the third floor cafe space. The talk or reading is piped down to the first floor. I do like the look of multi-story stores but I'm glad that Boswell is all on one level.

The typewriter theme is played out in their graphics, but the highlight is in the lower level, where there's a typewriter for you to write you deepest thoughts. Some of the best are reproduced on the outside of the building.

Section headers are in chalk (that is the thing right now) with fiction, poetry, and new releases being stars on floor one. Nonfiction is mostly in the lower level and picture books and board books are on floor two. Scott told me the cafe was sized down a bit to make it happen. He noted that this space is the unofficial clubhouse of the Michigan MFA program. Was it ever Drake's Sandwich Shop? What department (if any) held sway over Washenaw Dairy.

As you can see, I bought Washington Black there.

Also downtown is Vault of Midnight (one of three), with comics, graphic novels, and collectibles, which explains why they don't focus on graphic novels like a lot of stores with a younger audience. We also went to the new Shinola store and browsed their extensive journal collection. We carry a number at Boswell - it might well be our only journal that's made in the United States - Jen can correct me if I'm wrong.

Driving to North Campus, we stopped at Bookbound, another store that Scott and Jim frequent. The store was started by an ex-Borders buyer, and is now five years old. Peter knew several of our sales reps, also from Borders folk, as well as our friend Michael, who ran the Borders on University in Madison.They had recently expanded, and they also have a bookstore dog.

Scott had noted that they used to have more bargain books in the store, but Peter noted that this was a way of making a limited amount of cash go farther, much like you saw more second hand books at Boswell when we first opened. And it's possible that a number of them said "property of Daniel Goldin."

At Bookbound, I bought a copy of Milkman, our July In-Store Lit Group selection.

I'd already been to Nicola's several times, and both Scott and Jim said it hasn't changed much since being taken over by Schuler's.

The next day we headed for Detroit. I had several things on my agenda. I was interested in seeing how old building restoration was coming along. And it's coming along! So many beautiful buildings now back again as offices, with others being hotels or apartments or both. I could fill the blog with building photos but I'll try to keep to the subject of books.

My #1 request was a stop I could have done at any number of trips - John W. King Books on the edge of the downtown core. This four-story building will remind a lot of Milwaukeeans of the Old Renaissance Books but without the foundation issues and with pricing on the books. Sometimes it reminded me of the old Schroeders, not in the messiness, but in the things they thought were worth cataloging, from 1970s travel guides to coin directories to lots and lots of mass markets and textbooks.

I have to say I don't think I saw very much that was less than ten years old, but I did buy a few things, inspired by our recent book talk on American Advertising Cookbooks. The staff was helpful and spread out, and one English couple noted that they'd been to a lot of second hand bookstores and this one was particularly well organized.

We ate at some great restaurants, including Folk in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit, and Zingerman's relatively recent Miss Kim, a Korean restaurant. But the one with the book tie-in was Sister Pie, a small bakery in the West Village neighborhood, which led to book published last fall that was a big hit at Boswell. Is carrot pie a thing? It turns out that, yes, it is. My only regret is that they weren't making sweet beet pie, as both Scott and I are beet fans. But he did have beet hummus the day before at folk and I could go on about the beet and garlic Hummus from Waukesha's Noisy Kettle.

Of course there are many other Detroit-metro bookstores. But I did have work to do too!

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