February 23, 2009
Just back from . . .
. . . Shaman Drum Bookshop in Ann Arbor. There have been some recent posts about independent bookstores at various blogs and the need, or lack thereof, to support them. Personally, my own thoughts lend toward taking each case store by store. I've been to many fantastic indie stores over the past ten years. I've also been in stores where I was positive the person behind the counter couldn't wait until I got the hell out of the store so he/she could get back on the phone, or online, or back to the magazine they he/she was reading.
Shaman Drum is not doing well these days. There have been articles in the Ann Arbor papers recently and owner, Karl Pohrt, just sent out an open letter trying to explain, to those questioning the articles, just how the store has fallen into financial difficulties.
Having had the pleasure of getting to know Karl a bit over the past year and a half, I can say that his open letter didn't contain much surprising material - he's known where things were headed and has been trying to combat it in various ways. He, along with his lawyer, financial team, and others in the Ann Arbor area are pretty desperately trying to figure out the means to make the store still be a viable part of Ann Arbor's just off-campus business district.
If I follow my own thoughts above and go store by store? Shaman Drum would be near the top of my list for those to try to help. I wandered in there today, partially to do just that (which I hope I did by picking up Dan Chaon's novel, and Don Waters' story collection, Desert Gothic), and partially because there isn't a better store within my driving distance to browse for 30 to 60 minutes. The front shelf had an amazing NYRB display (they really are attractive books, especially when standing face out, side by side, over and across a six shelf bookshelf). The front table had a great selection of debut authors, books in translation and a couple of graphic novels.
It's a store that carries one or two copies of every book that Dzanc Books has published to date, because they both support independent publishers, but also because they support local publishing ventures. They've always stocked Hobart and Absinthe: New European Writing as well. When Orchid was coming out regularly, same deal for them.
The shelves had great selections from publishers like Dalkey Archive, Coffee House Press, Milkweed, probably more University of Iowa Press books outside of Prairie Lights, and the aforementioned wall of NYRB titles. They had a table displaying Open Letter Press titles. They had books in stock by Percival Everett, Steve Yarbrough, James Wilcox, and every Bolano that's been published. Full shelf of Cormac McCarthy (including the plays) and at least three Barry Hannah titles.
They also employ a great group of people. Ray McDaniel has no peer I've seen in regard to introducing authors that are reading in the store (plus he's a damn good poet himself). David McLendon, publisher of Unsaid, works in the store and is always great for a suggestion or two. At least one worker, Ryan, is a regular volunteer at 826Michigan. Today, even though I gave her the wrong title, AND the wrong publisher, the wonderful Emily figured out what book I was looking for, and even though it's not available, by the time I finished my browsing and returned to check out, she had taken the time to write out the title (correct version), author and publisher, along with the date I actually could purchase it. I'm embarassed to say that I only know Emily's name because she answered the phone while I was in the store today, even though I've seen her at countless readings and have chatted briefly at least a dozen times.
The store has readings this month alone by Jeff Kass, local poet (and soon to have a short story collection), translator Aliza Shevrin, Jesse Ball, Keith Taylor, Kyle Minor, Kathleen M. Rooney, Don Pollock, Karyna McGlynn, and Hillary Jordan. Each will be well attended as their Meagen Kujac does a fantastic job of garnering attention for their events (not to mention does a kick ass job of reading to kids one day a week or so around lunch time).
It's the type of store that the community (both local, AND literary) should have a vested interest in saving. Turns out that you can order books from them online. I don't think your shipping will be free, and you probably won't get that 20 to 40% discount you'll see at Amazon, but maybe, just maybe, you'll be keeping around this store, that is in the process of turning itself into a non-profit Literary Arts Center, that Karl is creating with the sole purpose of being able to leave something to the community when he is done, and helping it last long enough to figure out what steps to take to be able to continue thriving in these difficult times.