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A farewell to Aunt Agatha's Mystery Bookshop in Ann Arbor

The early years. Robin and Jamie just before their bookshop's grand opening (Courtesy: Robin Agnew)
The early years. Robin and Jamie just before their bookshop's grand opening (Courtesy: Robin Agnew)

ANN ARBOR – Consistently ranking high as one of America's most well-read cities, Ann Arbor is preparing to say goodbye to one of its oldest and most treasured independent bookstores.

Aunt Agatha's Mystery Bookshop will be closing its doors on Sunday, to the dismay of locals and visitors alike who enjoyed browsing new and used mysteries, attending countless author events and engaging in long conversations with the shop's owners, husband and wife Jamie and Robin Agnew, at 213 S. 4th Ave. for more than 26 years.

As the bookstore enters its final week of business, I sat down with Robin, who reminisced about the early days, shared her favorite customer stories and revealed what she and Jamie plan to do next.

Photo: Meredith Bruckner
Photo: Meredith Bruckner

 

"We’ve been thinking about it for about a year," she said of the decision to close. "We’re getting older and books -- it’s a really physical business. It’s just my husband and I and we have one employee who’s older than we are. So hauling boxes around is getting hard and the authors that we are friends with are getting older and they don’t want to be on book tour anymore."

Another factor was rising local and national competition. "Literati was a factor," she said. "Amazon is also, of course, a factor. People will come in and they’ll take a picture of a book and I know they’re going to leave and buy it on Amazon, which is really annoying."

Agnew told us her clients have typically been older, which speaks to the genre itself having taken off in the mid- to late-1800s.

Robin and Jamie (above) at a 2017 event with authors Vicki Delaney, Barbara Fradkin and John Keyse-Walker (Courtesy: Robin Agnew)
Robin and Jamie (above) at a 2017 event with authors Vicki Delaney, Barbara Fradkin and John Keyse-Walker (Courtesy: Robin Agnew)


 

"When we opened, our customers were older," she said. "They’d been in World War II. My favorite customer had been a fighter pilot and he started reading mysteries during the war because they handed out those little pocket books and you could put them in your back pocket. And that’s literally why he started reading Agatha Christie.

"I met him when he was probably 75. I just loved him -- he was such an adorable man. So he’d come in and we’d talk about books, had Benny Goodman on the stereo, it was just really cool."

The Agnews saw their customers have kids and also raised two of their own in the store. 

"My son was born after we opened and my daughter was 18 months when we opened," she said. "They were in here a lot. I’d nurse my son on the sofa we’re sitting on (right now) and whenever a mom comes in and she looks like she needs to nurse, I’m like, 'Go sit down (smiles).'"

Looking ahead, I asked Agnew what she wants to do next. "I would love to travel. I’ve never been out of the country except for Canada. I’d like to go to Europe, especially England. Golden Age mysteries are set (there). I’d want to go see Agatha Christie’s house."

As for community involvement, the Agnews' tenure doesn't end here. Their book club, which she says is more like a family, will continue. Robin also plans to write a blog and plans to partner with the district library to put on events.

The Agnews after winning a Raven Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 2014. Robin calls it a "career and life highlight" (Courtesy: Robin Agnew)
The Agnews after winning a Raven Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 2014. Robin calls it a "career and life highlight" (Courtesy: Robin Agnew)

So what won't she miss?

"I won’t miss January and February when it’s really snowy and no one’s coming in because it’s awful," she said. "We also didn’t have parking on our block for two years. That was a big factor. I definitely won’t miss football Saturdays. Those are awful for business, too, because no one wants to leave their house."

What will she miss the most?

"Our customers. There are authors that I love that I am definitely going to miss. I love author events -- they took a while to learn. I’ll just miss talking about books with other people.

(pauses)

"I'm really sad right now."

She's not alone.

Following the couple's April announcement on Facebook that they planned to close, an outpouring of comments from their customers and fans came streaming in.

"You will be missed. Your presence, your knowledge, the welcoming atmosphere of the story, your dedication to the mystery reading and writing community. Thank you for all you've done!" - Casey D.

"You were my home away from home during my annual summer visits to Ann Arbor! Each visit saw me return with a heavy, heavy suitcase full of exciting new reads - so many brilliant authors I discovered thanks to your wonderful recommendations! It is beyond sad to see you go." - Dyrken O.

"So sorry to hear that this pillar in the world of Mystery will be closing. Thanks for all you've done for the writing and reading community over the many years!" - Linda S.

What will you miss the most about Aunt Agatha's? Share in the comments below.

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