Thursday, April 27, 2017

Five of Michigan's Great Independent Bookstores

Pages Bookshop in Detroit
My favorite indie bookstore from childhood died more than 20 years ago at the hands of Barnes & Noble (which moved in across the street), but that same Barnes & Noble perished recently, most likely because it couldn't keep up with Amazon. It's been a common trend over the last 30 years. Big bookseller moves into the neighborhood, forcing an independent store to close, and then the big guy shutters its store when it can't compete with online shopping.

Luckily for those who love independent bookstores, some indies have survived the decades-long assault from big booksellers and the internet, while others have recently opened up shop. Whether they opened in the last few years or more than a few decades ago, good independent bookstores realize that they are much more than stores that sell books. It doesn't matter whether they sell coffee and other merchandise or just books. The special ones are gathering places for readers and writers. They offer recommendations, spur conversation, preserve and promote knowledge, and elevate communities.

Although they may not be as common as they once were, Michigan still has many independent bookstores. Here are a few of my favorites:

Falling Rock Cafe & Bookstore

Falling Rock Cafe & Bookstore
Munising is a city of just more than 2,000 people on the western edge of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Most visitors know it as the place to hop on one of the Pictured Rocks cruises, but Munising also has a top-notch bookstore in Falling Rock Cafe & Bookstore. The cafe serves custom-roasted coffee, breakfast, and sandwiches.

The bookstore has more than 30,000 new and used books, as well as locally made jewelry, pottery, and gifts. I was impressed by their section dedicated to local writers and found a couple of great books set in the U.P., South of Superior and Here. With its wide-open floor plan and numerous tables, Falling Rock is a great place to warm up with a good book and cup of coffee on a cold U.P. day.

The Book Beat

The Book Beat is teeming with books.
Book Beat is located in a nondescript strip mall on Greenfield Road in Oak Park and has been serving its community since 1982.  The award-winning store seems to hold more books that it can handle, with books stacked unevenly in spots. But much like my desk, it is an organized chaos where things are right where they belong.

Book Beat carries more than 50,000 titles, including a large selection of Michigan- and Detroit-themed books and an excellent children's book selection. It hosts a series of events each month, including book signings and lectures. Book Beat also selects a book each month for its reading group, which meets offsite to discuss the book.

Snowbound Books

Snowbound's old sign. They replaced it soon after I visited.
Marquette is a wonderful Upper Peninsula town, and Snowbound Books only adds to its charm. It has been supplying local readers and visitors with new and used books since 1984. I made my only visit to this store last summer on a vacation in Marquette, but I know I will stop in again if I'm in the area. The cozy bookshop has a large selection of new and used books, and they highlight books by local writers. Our daughters loved the kids section, and I enjoyed everything else.

I had just discovered the late Jim Harrison's works when I visited. He spent a lot of time in Marquette and set many of his stories and poems in the area, and he even mentioned Snowbound in his novels. I felt as if a visit to Snowbound was a necessary stop on a pilgrimage to his old stomping grounds. I even caught him keeping watch over the place with his one good eye.

Jim Harrison keeping watch at Snowbound Books
Pages Bookshop

Pages features books from the Made in Michigan Writers Series.
Opened in 2015, Pages Bookshop is a newcomer to Detroit's literary scene. This tiny shop on Grand River Avenue does not have the largest collection of titles, so you might not always find exactly what you are looking for, but you will find something unexpected on the store's tidy shelves. And the store will order anything it does not have in stock and has an online ordering option through its website that allows customers to pre-order books for pickup at the store.

Pages also hosts a series of readings and events for local writers and hosts a local book club. The staff has been friendly and helpful both times I've visited. Plus, they have a cat, who gives the store a relaxing and homey feel.

The cat who carefully guards literature
Literati Bookstore

Ann Arbor is known as Tree Town. As home to the University of Michigan and several bookstores, Book Town might be a better name for it. Literati Bookstore opened in 2013 and has quickly established itself as a mecca for book lovers and writers. Literati hosts several book clubs and brings in nationally acclaimed writers for readings and book signings.

Literati's fiction section is filled with thoughtful staff recommendations.
Literati's website states, "We believe that, contrary to popular belief, we are not hurtling towards some digital, machine-operated future where an Amazon algorithm can decide your reading list. We believe in the whimsy that an independent bookstore provides. We believe that people still enjoy reading real books where real people work in a real bookstore." 

I believe the same things, and I'd guess most other independent bookstore fans do too. And that's why Literati does their job so well.

The above stores are just a few of Michigan's many independents. I hope to visit more during my travels. If you're looking for an independent bookstore in your area, try the store finder at It doesn't include every independent bookstore, but it's a great place to start.

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