Tom Fricke, chair of the University of Michigan’s anthropology department, writes a remembrance of Karl Pohrt, published by the Ann Arbor Observer. He writes: “Karl and the [Shaman Drum Bookshop] were vital parts of the life of this University, representing a vision of the tapestry, community and academy, into which we need to be woven. It is a threatened, perhaps irreproducible, reality approached so closely by this simple bookstore. … And Karl presided over it all with delight. This was what he wanted. This is what he would never compromise.” [Source]
Karl Pohrt, founder of Shaman Drum Bookshop, died two days ago on July 10, 2013 after being diagnosed with anaplastic thyroid cancer in October 2012.
Karl was most widely known for his work as an independent bookseller, both locally and at the national level. He also had a deep belief in the importance of civic life, and served for several years on the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board, among other local entities.
Karl was also supportive of other local entrepreneurs. Shaman Drum Bookshop was one of the very first advertisers on Teeter Talk and also The Ann Arbor Chronicle.
From his May 8, 2006 Teeter Talk interview: “So I feel, if it has to do with a devolving of a political conversation into a sloganeering and trashing of people … given the amount of time I have left on the planet Earth, I’m not sure that it’s worth my effort. And it’s also counterproductive, or I suspect that it’s counterproductive on some deep and profound level. However, maybe that’s what a democracy is: this sort of jostling and continual debate and back and forth with people with conflicting interests. So I have not thought this through. But I also feel that my energy would be better used in other areas.”
Karl, thank you for the ride.
A memorial service will be held on Sunday, July 14 at 2 p.m. at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, 3257 Lohr Road in Ann Arbor. Donations can be made to the church or to the Children’s Literacy Network.
Karl Pohrt, who opened Shaman Drum Bookshop nearly 30 years ago, has decided to close the business on June 30. He plans to continue efforts to obtain nonprofit status for a separate venture, the Great Lakes Literary Arts Center.
The decision comes after many months of financial struggles at the bookstore, which Pohrt outlined in a column published by The Chronicle in February. In that column, he reported that textbook sales in 2008 had declined $510,000 from the previous year. He cut payroll and other operating expenses, but couldn’t cover the shop’s losses. Though trade sales (books of general interest) were up, that didn’t compensate for the loss of textbook sales. “The evaporation of our position has been astonishingly swift,” he wrote. “We had been holding relatively even financially until September. Suddenly we’ve moved into the red.”
In the midst of all the sturm und drang surrounding the future of Shaman Drum Bookshop, I went to Nicaragua.
Dianne, my wife, had been teaching for the last month in Catarina, a town in the mountains south of Managua. She volunteered under the auspices of the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, a small congregation in Ann Arbor of which we are both members. ECI is collaborating with the Iglesia Bautista Remanente, a Baptist church in Catarina, on projects that “will bridge the divide between wealth and impoverished countries by providing capital, employment and opportunities for cultural exchange.”
Joe Summers, our minister, is an old friend of mine – we worked together in the bookshop years ago – and ECI is an openhearted, diverse community that is serious about creating a better world. Although I’ve been mostly engaged with Buddhism in my adult life, I was attracted to this church because of the willingness of Joe and the congregation to struggle together around difficult issues. And I still enjoy a good sermon.
I hadn’t had much of a chance to talk with Dianne about the state of the bookshop given that our telephone and internet connections were short and infrequent. The experience teaching in Catarina was transformative and very positive for her, but living conditions were difficult. She asked me to come. I traded my frequent flyer miles for a ticket to Nicaragua.
This fall and winter Shaman Drum Bookshop went into a steep financial decline. Textbook sales declined $510K from last year. We managed to cut our payroll and other operating expenses by $80K, but that didn’t begin to cover our losses.
There was some good news. Our trade (general interest) book sales on the first floor were actually up in December from last year by 10%, which is extraordinary given what many other retailers were reporting. And trades sales in January were up 15%. Still, this hardly compensates for our losses in textbook sales.
The evaporation of our position has been astonishingly swift. We had been holding relatively even financially until September. Suddenly we’ve moved into the red.
I sort of saw this coming.