Literati Bookstore

Beginning in January 2013, Michael Gustafson and Hilary Lowe spent nearly three months renovating a twenty-six-hundred-square-foot storefront in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to prepare for the grand opening of Literati Bookstore. Not everything went according to plan: Unforeseen expenses and delays, a botched order of fifteen thousand bookmarks, and a near total loss of their first week's sales threatened the bookstore's success. But over a hundred members of the Ann Arbor community turned up for Literati's inaugural reading, and now, more than eight months after the store's grand opening, Gustafson and Lowe have built a successful community around their literary dream. The following images offer a behind the scenes look at the couple's journey, which contributing editor Jeremiah Chamberlin chronicles in "How to Make a Life, Maybe Even a Living: Opening an Independent Bookstore" in the current issue of Poets & Writers Magazine.

January 2013: The basement, which accounts for half the store's floor space, covered in torn-up carpeting and debris prior to renovations. "No matter how long I listened to the couple describe their vision for this space," Jeremiah Chamberlin writes, "when I looked around all I saw was a basement."

The original wood floors of the space are torn out and replaced, an unexpected expense that delays the bookstore's opening.

Gustafson and Lowe paint the black-and-white checkerboard pattern on the top floor of the store by hand, stepping carefully between each square they’ve mapped using blue painter’s tape.

March 2013: The store debuts with a private party. Writers, members of the University of Michigan community, as well as local business owners and supporters, arrive for their first glimpse of the new bookstore.

Over a hundred people show up to hear Michigan-based poet Keith Taylor read at Literati Bookstore, the first of what the owners hope will be many future readings and events.

Despite the long hours, Gustafson and Lowe never stop smiling at the Literati Bookstore's debut party for members of the community.

Each morning Gustafson adds paper to the manual typewriter in the basement's sitting area, and throughout the day people come down to type. They leave love notes, dirty jokes, pleas, poems, to-do lists, affirmations, even marriage proposals.

April 2013: The bookstore officially opens. A local artist draws the hand-lettered window signs, Gustafson's mother paints section headings, and the employees hand-stamp the Literati logo on shopping bags. Chamberlin writes, "Quite literally everything in Literati has been touched by human hands."

After many long and difficult months filled with endless financial calculations and guesses, overwhelming challenges, and a lot of hard work, Gustafson and Lowe stand outside their bookstore looking happy, energized, and inspired.