715 Washington Street
Grand Haven, MI 49417
Having grown up in the Lake Michigan shoreline city of Muskegon, I am intimately acquainted with the weather patterns along the "Big Lake," as we locals call it. The month of March, for example, often brings deceptively sunny days that to the indoor observer seem springlike and warm, while in reality the sharp breezes off the still-icy lake will make your cheeks red and bring tears to your eyes. At this time of year, dirty remnants of snow plow banks are still sometimes as high as a three-year-old child. Imagine my incredulity this past March 20, when on a visit to the town of Grand Haven, a short drive down the lakeshore from Muskegon, I observed no ice on the lake and no remains of snow. Instead the beach was miraculously crowded with what? Sun bathers? Had I somehow been transported a few months into the future?This sunny, 80-degree day was certainly more reminiscent of July weather on Lake Michigan. But, no, it was definitely March. I knew this for a fact because I was with my sister Sue celebrating her March birthday with lunch and a visit to a local bookstore. This is Sue's fourth bookstore adventure with me (See Tuesday Books, Book Nook, and Black River Books ). Her son Andrew lives in Grand Haven. He was, unfortunately, working at the time, but his girlfriend Nicci was able to join us on this memorable trip.
The simple, spartan exterior of The Bookman is as deceptive as that March sun I spoke of; other than a simple placard on the building's corner, there is little to indicate that it houses a bookstore. Yet once inside, I would soon learn that this shop has a charming and interesting story to tell. Now I have visited bookstores inhabiting structures that began their lives as something quite different: an old train car (Reading Books), a bank (Literary Life), and a glove factory (King Books). Not to be outdone, The Bookman resides in what once was a feed store.
Some of the original components remain as long-time store manager, Doug Vander Sys, explained. The sloping driveway at the side entrance, for example, served as a ramp by which farmers could pull their wagons up to be filled with grain. The wall in a back room still shows the chalk marks denoting various feeds and their prices.
In business since 1974, The Bookman expanded twenty-some years ago into an adjacent store, thereby inheriting a beautiful old tin ceiling which has since been restored. The shop is decorated in a manner befitting the antique nature of this building. Old furniture pieces provide unique display space and seating is offered by windsor chairs and a park bench that adorns a large front window. The creativity of a collection of cookbooks displayed on an antique dry sink was not lost on me.
I was delighted to find a well-appointed young adult section as well as a juvenile section whose popularity had necessitated separating it from an overflowing children's area. Also popular, I'm told, is an adjacent room devoted to a paperback exchange.
Above a large selection of periodicals, original art is displayed which Doug informed me comes from a local establishment, the Gallery Uptown, which interestingly, was originally called the Gallery Upstairs and actually inhabited the space above the bookstore. While the works are changed out from time to time, the talented artist on display during my visit was Marlan Cotner. (FYI, the space upstairs is now a yoga studio.)
Also available at the Bookman are cards, maps, reading glasses, and the like as well as a large collection of unique and charming hand puppets which Joan, a knowledgeable staff member was pleased to demonstrate. I noted several books by local authors and discussed with Joan one title in particular, Spirits and Wine. (See previous post)
For my purchase at this store, I decided rather easily on a volume of poetry that I had not seen before, Another E. E. Cummings, edited by Richard Kostelanetz. As Cummings is my very favorite poet, and April, national poetry month, is just around the corner, I can't think of a more appropriate selection. The radically experimental poetry of Cummings is also in keeping with the motto of The Bookman, "An independent store for independent minds." This independent mind thoroughly enjoyed her summer-in-March visit to Grand Haven and The Bookman.