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Ann Arbor's Independent Bookstores

By Edited Dec 18, 2015 0 0

Being the hometown of Borders, it’s not much of a surprise to find three of the large bookstores within the city limit. Ahem, two. One closed down.  But the one downtown is not even a full block away from it’s original location.

With the two-story Borders looming over Liberty St, it’s hard to imagine independent book stores doing very well.  In fact, one went out of business last year.  It was rather disappointing, as it was the closest one to where I lived at the time. Shaman Drum, you are missed.

That’s not to say the independent bookstores are down for the count, Ann Arbor has a ton of them.  I’m always surprised when walking around downtown and rediscovering a store I had forgotten about.  Then again, my hometown is so small we don’t have any bookstore. Nor a library.

What keeps the stores in Ann Arbor alive is how specialized many of them have become. Borders doesn’t carry everything, though it does have what’s the most popular.  And sells things other than books.  But like many large chain stores it lacks the local touch.  Or simply the smell of books because the aisles are too short, far apart, and the shelves aren’t even ten years old.

And so, without further ado, here’s a list of the independent bookstores in Ann Arbor.

Dawn Treader Book Shop– Just down the street from Borders, Dawn Treader specializes in used books. And the store is filled with them.  It takes a couple visits inside to understand the layout of the store; rooms and shelves aren’t lined up evenly and there are so many books piles can be found on the floor because there is a lack of shelf space. 

It’s hard to say there’s a type of book that can’t be found here.  I’ve seen everything from books in Chinese to leather-bound antiques worth hundreds of dollars.  Come summer, there’s carts of books outside being offered for 50 cents each.  It’s a great place to find a random read, which is a common habit of mine. This store is also one of my favorites of the bookstore in Ann Arbor.

David’s Books – On a small side street, David’s doesn’t as much traffic as the Dawn Treader.  They cater to a similar crowd however.  David’s is a smaller place, and as such the aisles are really narrow.  It can sometimes be impossible to pass someone. 

But the closeness of the books gives the store an atmosphere different than any other in Ann Arbor.  You can breath in words, and the only thought that enters you mind is ‘this is what my personal library will feel and smell like some day’.  It does have a small selection, but the staff is very aware of what they do and don’t have.  So you can take your time browsing, or not. 

Aunt Agatha’s – Situated half way between the campus part of town and the more up scale Main Street, this book store specializes in, you guessed it, mysteries.  New, used, fiction, and true crime you’ll find what you’re looking for in the genre and more here.

Agatha’s also frequently holds author events, be they readings, signings, or book launch parties (complete with cake).  And despite the subject matter of the store, the interior is cozy.  There is a reason William Kent Kreuger makes an annual visit to the store, it’s hard to resist. 

Nicola’s Books – This store is considered the premier independent bookstore in Ann Arbor.  It might have something to do with alcoves filled with comfortable seating.  Or the fireplace.  In either regard, it’s worth a peek that’s for sure. It's no wonder why fairies like it here.

The store is pretty large, so you won’t feel cramped here or the oppressive weight of books, and it has lots of connections with local organizations.  Which means lots of events, think four or five a week. It’s not uncommon to make a trip to the store and walk in on an author event, and it’s always enjoyable because the stories and company are continuously fabulous. And if you can’t find what you’re looking for, the staff specializes in finding it.  Even if it’s out of print.

Crazy WisdomCrazy Wisdom is best classified as a new age book store, where you can find everything from yoga mats to crystals to instructional books on growing your own herbs.  But the best part of the store, and what makes this another favorite of mine of the Ann Arbor options, is the tea room upstairs. 

Most of the floor is open sitting, with comfy couches and armchairs, free Internet,  and a full wall of windows so there is plenty of light.  There is a full tea room too, offering a variety of beverages, pastries, and light meals. There are free concerts Friday and Saturday evenings, ranging from folk music to rockabilly, and if you’re interested it’s best to show up early because the space fills up rather quickly.  And there isn’t a lot of floor space. 

It’s a bookstore, tea room, and concert hall all wrapped into one.  How can you not enjoy it?

Vault of Midnight – Just down Main Street from Crazy Wisdom is Vault of Midnight.  It’s pretty much Ann Arbor’s only comic store, and they do offer graphic novels produced by local artists. There is also a ton of figures to browse over and a selection of tabletop games.

Even if you’re not a comic book fan, it’s worth a peak just to circle around the store.  Some of the cover art you can find is beautiful, and there are art books for video games and movies available as well.

West Side Book Shop – This store resides on the west side of Main Street. It feels similar to Dawn Treader; shelves of rich wood lined with used books and no consistent floor plan with even the hallway lined with shelves.  It’s easy to get lost simply looking at all the interesting titles.

While also a used bookstore, West Side’s specialty is rare books.  They’re an avid participate in the Ann Arbor Antiquarian Book Fair, a local expo for used and rare books.  


That being said, Ann Arbor is my no means a typical town, but it does tend to have more independent businesses then most. Including theathers and record labels.



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