Nicola Rooney tells Publishers Weekly that she’s looking for a buyer for her Ann Arbor bookstore, Nicola’s Books. “I have a long-term continuation plan in mind. It’s really a gentle process. My ideal scenario is a gentle transition.” The independent bookstore opened in 1991 and is located in the Westgate Shopping Center, on Ann Arbor’s west side. [Source]
Publishers Weekly reports on Peter Blackshear’s plans to open a new independent bookstore in Ann Arbor in August. Bookbound, to be located in the Courtyard Shops complex at 1729 Plymouth Road, will focus on bargain books and children’s books, with a small used book section. The article quotes Blackshear, a former Borders bookstore employee: “I’d dreamed for many years of having a store of my own. When Borders closed, I thought maybe there was a window of opportunity to start my own business.” [Source]
So after Borders, now what?
What will it take for another bookseller to open shop in the Borders/Shaman Drum neighborhood at State and Liberty, and operate a browseable place with content deep and wide? We’re talking about a books-and-mortar store a stone’s throw from the University of Michigan campus. A spot where you arrange to meet up with your husband after the two of you go your separate ways for an hour. Where you hang out until the movie starts at the Michigan Theater. Where you actually buy a book now and then – sometimes a title other than the one that got you in the real, live door.
Keith Taylor, the poet, UM creative writing teacher and veteran local bookseller, says “it will take idealism, a lot of 80-hour work weeks, a willingness to be constantly present.”
Check, check and check. This is Ann Arbor, after all.
And then there’s Taylor’s fourth condition: “A landlord willing to rent space for less than the going rate.”
“Rents in central Ann Arbor right now will not allow for an independent bookstore, or an independent anything,” he says, “until the business owner owns the building the store is in.”
Karl Pohrt concurs – and the owner of the former Shaman Drum Bookshop, but not the building that housed it, should know: “It’s essential to own the building. If they don’t, they’ll be vulnerable.”
“Rent,” replies Nicola Rooney flatly when the proprietor of Nicola’s Books is asked why she won’t consider a move from Westgate Shopping Center to the State Street area.
We knew that, really. This is downtown Ann Arbor, after all. The market apparently won’t bear an independent bookstore in that neighborhood – Shaman Drum, which was located on South State just around the corner from Borders, closed in 2009 after nearly 30 years in business. Its former storefront is now a burger joint.
So the real question is this: If the market won’t bear a full-blown downtown bookstore, how will the community respond?
Arthur Nusbaum raised the curtain on his second act – Third Mind Books – in January. With an inventory of more than 500 items, the online bookstore devoted to the work and legacy of the Beat Generation shares office space with Nusbaum’s once-primary gig: he’s president of Ann Arbor’s Steppingstone Properties Ltd.
A real estate guy with a thing for William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and the rest of that reckless crew? Incongruous, on the face of it. But a closer look reveals a certain ironic harmony.
“I used to be an activist,” says Nusbaum. No surprise there – this is a fellow whose dazzling energy will find an outlet.
Born in Detroit, he grew up in the suburbs, attended the University of Michigan and returned to Ann Arbor for good in the early 1990s as the concept of New Urbanism was gathering steam in Ann Arbor and across the country. Those principles resonated with him, and as he made the connection between his own business and the intensifying local efforts to rein in suburban sprawl, Nusbaum says, “real estate became more meaningful for me. And that’s reflected in buildings like this.”
He’s speaking from his second-floor suite of offices in Ashley Square, at 123 N. Ashley St. The building – Nusbaum believes it was an auto showroom in its original incarnation – was rehabbed in the 1980s and purchased in the late 1990s by Nusbaum, who relocated Steppingstone there in 2000.
“To make a long story short, that’s the direction I took for the last decade and a half in my business,’’ he says.
Less than two weeks after Shaman Drum Bookshop announced plans to close, the owners of another independent Ann Arbor bookstore are saying they could be next.
On Friday, Keith Orr – co-owner of Common Language Bookstore – sent an email to customers laying out the situation that his business faces: “There is no easy way to say this,” he wrote. “Common Language is not making enough sales to support itself. Its very existence is in peril.”
After a Chronicle reader forwarded the email to us on Monday, we went over to the store in Kerrytown’s Braun Court to talk with Orr. Sitting in the shaded courtyard in front of the shop he owns with partner Martin Contreras, Orr spoke about why they decided to reach out for help, and how he hopes the community will respond.
Contreras and Orr have been subsidizing the store with their personal savings and with money from another business they own, the \aut\ BAR, which is located in an adjacent building. They can’t continue that indefinitely – sales have to increase to support the store. Though there is a sense of crisis, Orr says, they aren’t planning to shut their doors next week or even next month. Yet they wanted to alert the community that they are struggling, and if they can’t find a way to make the bookstore financially sustainable, they’ll have to close.