Showcasing Local Talent: From Small Businesses to Ann Arbor Artists
Literati’s long list of collaborations with local artists and businesses is a testament to the value of supporting one’s community. From the moment you spy Literati from down the street, local talent is already within sight.
The window (which earned Literati a spot on Flavorwire’s “30 Excellent Bookstore Windows From Around the World”) and holiday display were designed by a local artist named Samantha Schroeder. The tote bags that feature the bookstore’s signature typewriter logo are printed by VGKids, an Ypsilanti-based printer, their coffee mugs are produced by Underground Printing, a local printing company, their bookshelves are recycled from the former flagship Borders store in Ann Arbor, while their tables are all either from Treasure Mart, Recycle Ann Arbor, or one of their staff member’s basements.
“That's the entire point of this store—to support the buy local movement, to support people we know, people we hire, people we are friends with. The thing that e-commerce has taken away is that personal, crafted touch,” stated Michael.
Soon, they will be installing a typewriter sign designed by another local artist named Oliver Uberti. Uberti even used a local company to make his idea for the sign come to life. The chalkboard sections are hand-lettered by Michael’s mom, while the vases made out of book pages were created by his mom and sister for his and Hilary’s wedding (they now have a new home at Literati).
“We contribute to the community here. We want to help be a part of a vibrant downtown district, and you can't do that if you don't support the people who live in this community. Hiring and supporting and featuring local artists is just a small way of doing that,” concluded Michael.
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Inside a quaint green brick building on the corner of Washington and 4th Street in Ann Arbor, Michigan, lives Literati Bookstore. While the store has only been open since this past Easter, it is hard to imagine Ann Arbor without this new literary landmark built for and from the surrounding community.
Ann Arbor isn’t a stranger to bookstores that are remembered long after they are gone. Literary locals and visitors to the Ann Arbor area can probably rattle off a memory tied to the former beloved Shaman Drum and the flagship Borders store. “Ann Arbor has always been a book town. It's known as ‘Tree Town,’ but I'd like to also brand it as ‘Book Town,’” said co-owner Michael Gustafson. “Borders started here, but Ann Arbor's history with bookselling goes beyond Borders. Ann Arbor once had the highest number of bookstores per capita than any city in the country.”
“We're just a small part of it, but we're more than happy to play our part by helping it keep going,” Michael continued. But what makes Literati Bookstore so incredible is that they still recognize the past and current bookstores that have nurtured or continue to cultivate the literary community of Ann Arbor.
Recently, Literati helped Nicola’s Books, another Ann Arbor bookstore, win an event with Malcolm Gladwell. “They approached us and asked if we could help get the word out. So we did. We put out a newsletter, social media posts, and got the word out to those in the downtown community and beyond. And they won! How cool is that? It's always great to bring nationally-known authors to the area. If it helps Nicola's, it helps us,” revealed Michael.
Some of their staff came to Literati with prior experience working at the former Ann Arbor Borders or Shaman Drum. Being first-time business owners, Michael and wife Hilary Lowe have looked towards their staff’s guidance on store layouts, ordering, setting up events, and book recommendations. “Our staff is the reason we have survived. We're very lucky,” stated Michael.
“Each person has a different expertise—some are poets, some are kids’ books experts, some are philosophers. They bring to the store their knowledge, and collectively, we can curate a pretty wide-range of categories,” Michael said. Since opening six months ago, Literati has learned what is on top of Ann Arbor readers’ lists; The bookstore has expanded its poetry section, found its science and math sections to be popular, as well as their literary fiction (which makes up a quarter of Literati’s inventory).
With its carefully curated book collection and Staff Picks, Literati is a bookstore that makes its customers feel like they are walking into their own personal home library. There is even a working typewriter in the store that beckons customers to tap away at the keys as they reveal their secrets, fears, greatest successes, failures, and literary genius. “The idea came about because our logo is based on my grandfather's typewriter, and I wanted to start a collection of typewriters to display in the store—replicas that various authors have used to type their novels on. We have a similar model Hemingway used, that Cormac McCarthy used, etc.,” Michael told me.
With this typewriter, Literati helps share the story of a community that extends beyond the bookstore’s walls. “Some of it was great, so I posted it on our social media platforms—our Facebook and Twitter pages—and it's taken off since then,” Michael added. “My goal is, for however long we exist, we'll have thousands of quotes from people who have visited our store taped everywhere in our lower level. My favorite message is ‘I am here with my mom. We complete each other because she is young at heart and I am an old soul.’ I love that quote.”
Literati opens its doors to talents of all kinds whether they rather remain to be anonymous, like in the case of many customers that type out a note on the typewriter, or not. The store has started to invite more musicians to come to the store in a celebration of the written word in all its forms. “I love singer-songwriters, and one of my big regrets living in New York was that I never heard more live music,” Michael said. Now Literati brings the music to fans of their bookstore.
Several years back when Michael lived in Los Angeles, he came across Jeff Pianki’s music on Youtube. It wasn’t until moving back to Michigan to start Literati that Michael remembered Pianki was from the state. “I emailed him, and he agreed to play in the store. It was an awesome show, and one of my favorite nights at Literati,” Michael stated.
Right now, there is no stopping Literati as Michael, Hilary and their dedicated staff gracefully embark on Phase Two which includes building their author events, organizing a Friday Night Music Series, establishing in-store book clubs, connecting with the downtown library, Michigan Theater, 826Michigan, Neutral Zone, and other local attractions.
“We've been lucky to have had support these first few months, but we have to keep it going. We have to continue to provide a great space for the community, and get people into the store not just this year, but next year, the year after, and so forth. It's going to be tough, but I think we can do it,” Michael said.
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Some upcoming events are the Poetry in Michigan/ Michigan in Poetry release and reading on December 4th, a continuation of the Zell Fellows reading series on December 11th, and a reading with Bonnie Jo Campbell (Michael says that you will see the state of Michigan differently after you read her work) on December 14th.
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Nicolette Amstutz is a writer for Independent Publisher. She recently graduated from the University of Michigan where she majored in English and Communications. Please contact her with any comments, questions, or criticisms at namstutz (at) umich.edu