Independent bookstores offer communities more than books
In the age of internet retailers, independently-owned, brick-and-mortar bookstores such as Snowbound Books in Marquette and Falling Rock Cafe and Bookstore in Munising are still standing and providing area residents and visitors with more than inventory.
In fact, with the popularity of big box stores in decline, the American Booksellers Association reports that indie bookstores grew nationally by 35% between 2009 and 2015.
On Saturday, Snowbound celebrated 35 years of business with a birthday party held at the store along Third Street in Marquette. Dana Schulz, owner and operator of Snowbound Books, said the event was a way to show customers the staff’s appreciation for their support and patronage over the years. Schulz wants residents to recognize that their choice to shop local makes a difference and allows stores like theirs to stay open.
“It’s really humbling that we mean so much to people,” Schulz said.
Community members from all over Marquette County and visitors from outside the area attended the event, which included prizes, refreshments and more. Two longtime patrons, Vince and Teresa Grout, stopped in to join the celebration and, of course, browse the book selection. Before moving to the Upper Peninsula about 20 years ago, the Grouts started visiting Marquette and discovered Snowbound Books on their trips. Their decision to relocate to this area was, in part, because the city could support an indie bookstore.
“Some people look for museums or restaurants and some look for bookstores,” Teresa Grout said. The Grouts find that small bookstores have a carefully crafted selection, with regional authors and subject matters, which they prefer in contrast to broader inventories of larger chain stores.
“It was great,” Vince Grout said. “If you were looking for something to read, you could come in here and say ‘Well, I like that author, that author,’ and they’d always have great suggestions on top of those. It’s something that is hard to find.”
For many people, bookstores offer more than just a product. It provides them a home-like community space. Author Ray Oldenburg introduced the concept of the three places in his 1989 book “The Great Good Place.” Oldenburg concludes that every person needs to live in balance between three different realms: the “first place,” which is the home life; the “second place” or the workplace; and the inclusively sociable spaces, the “third place.” Third place qualifiers are spaces where people can gather, have lively conversation and participate in leisurely activities. According to Oldenburg, established third places are the pillars of a healthy community and necessary for grassroots democracy.
Nancy and Jeff Dwyer, owners and operators of Falling Rock Cafe and Bookstore, have been told their establishment in Munising is such a place.
“It’s a place where you can come in and feel comfortable,” Nancy Dwyer said. “Once you come in here, you’re a friend for life.”
With visiting author events, musical performances, wedding reception services, art classes and weekly open jam sessions, Falling Rock offers its clientele a little bit of everything. According to the Dwyers, the cafe and bookstore is referred to as “Munising’s living room,” and with the increasing area tourism, it’s a host to many. In an article posted Oct. 30, 2018, by Hoodline.com, an organization creating local news content nationally, titled “Bibliophiles Take Heed: Here are America’s 50 Favorite Bookstores,” Falling Rock Cafe was named number six.
Dwyer believes the success of the bookstore is because its inventory is made of books that the customers want to read. Dwyer handpicks each book that ends up on the sun-soaked shelves of Falling Rock. With used and new inventory, she chooses titles from regional or university presses, like Michigan State University Press, Wayne State University Press and Minnesota Press.
“I don’t sell hardcover bestsellers, they don’t sell,” Dwyer said. “I sell regional books, (for) people that are coming to the area and want a taste of something.”
Before Dwyer moved to Munising, she was introduced to and fell in love with the area through the literature written on it with such reads as “A Face in The Rock” by Loren Graham. Now Dwyer says that it’s a thrill to introduce her clients to books that allow them to fall in love with the Upper Peninsula as well.
“I love connecting them with a book where they can take a piece of this area home with them,” Dwyer said.
At both the Falling Rock and Snowbound the inventory is built by hand, one book at a time, and curated by staff who confess to being avid readers.
“It’s not what some publisher wants them to read or what a corporate algorithm is telling them to read. It’s more personalized,” Schulz said.
Indie bookstores are not just offering its clientele a room full of products, they’re offering them a place of belonging.
“These things as objects mean a lot to people,” Schulz said. “For a lot of people, it’s not a luxury; it’s an essential part of their lives.”
Snowbound Books founder Ray Nurmi was at the birthday party and celebration on Saturday. He shared his belief that as long as an indie bookstore remains dynamic and reflects the owner, the people who work there and the community it operates in, it will continue to thrive and serve generations of book lovers to come.
Corey Kelly can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 243.