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Small Biz Saturday: Ann Arbor’s Literati Bookstore goes virtual, keeps local charm

Credit: Literati Bookstore
Credit: Literati Bookstore

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Located in the heart of downtown Ann Arbor, Literati Bookstore has had to pivot into the world of digital bookselling and event hosting during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In general, everything the store has done, and everything that our employees and owners have come up with, is born out of just continuing to be a local, independent bookstore in the midst of a completely unanticipated and unprecedented public health crisis,” said Literati Event Director John Ganiard.

And the downtown brick-and-mortar bookstore has done a lot over the past months. It closed the doors to its physical space in March, ramped up its online presence, started curbside services, transferred its authors events online and even made a virtual version of its much-loved typewriter.

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“We had to pivot to something that is ironic for us, because the whole gist of Literati is that it is a community bookstore that you can come inside of, and that relies on these social interactions,” Ganiard said, adding that the changes were also made to help keep the community and Literati safe.

While the changes were done for survival, Ganiard said they keep to the bookstore’s core beliefs and mission to serve the community and be a community space.

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Bookselling in the Time of Coronavirus

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Through its At Home with Literati virtual events, the Ann Arbor bookstore connects its community of book lovers to their favorite authors as publishers forgo in-person book tours.

Many of the events are free and Ganiard added that Literati tries to incorporate a Michigan connection for them. Ticketed events include a copy of an author’s book, much like Literati’s past in-person author events.

Ganiard said that Literati wants the events to be “strongly local but also boundless” in their reach. Some of the events are on YouTube and they have allowed Literati to further expand its reach both nationally and internationally.

“The reception couldn’t be more generous and understanding and positive,” he said, adding that the support has been overwhelming and humbling.

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Ganiard added that people in Ann Arbor get to have something similar to their downtown experience but that the events are also introducing author fans to Ann Arbor and to the bookstore.

Literati’s online presence has also helped the Ann Arbor community show its love of the bookstore. In March, the community and other donors gave over $100,000 to Literati through a GoFundMe fundraiser, which powered operations while it developed its online presence.

For those missing Literati’s famed typewriter, a digital one has been created that mimics the sounds and functions of the typewriter in the bookstore’s lower level.

Ganiard said online community members have really responded to the virtual version.

“There’s something about the opportunity to write a little message that you can’t really delete that is inspiring some really profound responses to what’s happening.”

Ganiard added that he is excited to know that the community still wants to interact with the store and that they are willing to adapt alongside the bookstore. He also said that he and other staff are appreciative of the support they have received from Literati’s community.

“The bookstore is comprised of incredibly hard-working staff and we’ve all felt blessed to be able to do the job of bookselling in this community especially,” Ganiard said.

“It means a lot to have that support because it’s supporting a lot of hard work.”

In-person shopping isn’t allowed at Literati right now, but bookworms hungry to visit can order books for curbside service or window shop through its large display windows.

Although Literati is dark inside, Ganiard said there are busy booksellers hard at work that want to return to a world where customers can come back inside to visit.

Curbside pick up can be scheduled from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Mondays to Saturdays.

Literati Bookstore is at 124 E. Washington St.

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Literati Bookstore is at the corner of East Washington Street and South 4th Avenue.
Literati Bookstore is at the corner of East Washington Street and South 4th Avenue. (Mike Gustafson)

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