620 W. Court Street
Flint, MI 48503
Now for something completely different! Okay, maybe not completely in the strictest sense of the word. Rest assured I'm still talking about a bookstore. But this brand new store is in a location so far removed from the majority of stores I have visited that to me it seems completely different.
If you've followed my blog for very long, you have no doubt noticed my attraction to quaint small towns and charming tourist areas. The Lake Michigan shore has been a favorite of mine. Towns from St. Joseph in southwest Michigan on up the coast to Montague, Traverse City, Petoskey, and Charlevoix plus numerous summer vacation spots in between (Newaygo, Gaylord, Pentwater, Glen Arbor) all provided memorable bookstore experiences for me. I've enjoyed bookstores while traveling (Hong Kong, Washington D.C., Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Iowa City), bookstores in unique locations (a converted factory, an old train car), and even in small out-of-the way places (Mecosta, Owosso, Albion)--each store interesting and enjoyable in its own unique way.
Then this past December I took a trip to a Michigan town I had never before visited, not a tourist town, not a quaint small town, not an out-of-the way discovery. No, this trip took me to Flint, Michigan. What attracted me to Flint, you may wonder, a town which has seen more than its fair share of trouble and turmoil of late? Well, I got wind of a new bookstore opening up in Flint, thanks to my alert cousin Jane. Couple that with a Michigan December that was uncharacteristically mild, and a road trip was definitely in order. So on a much warmer than normal December day, I set out for Totem Books.
|Staff members, Sarah Talley and Craig Farrington|
A pleasant drive along Michigan's Highway 21 took me through small towns and farming communities to the western edge of Flint where I quickly located the store. A tall sign marks the spot. Entering the building, I was immediately offered assistance by a friendly person behind the desk, Craig Farrington, who took time to give me a tour of the store and fill me in on some of the details.
As I write this, the store is not yet officially opened. A grand opening is planned for late January, but a soft opening for the holidays afforded me the opportunity for an advanced look at the place.
Craig explained that just last summer, owner Dean Yeotis took over what was formerly a liquor store with a bad rep, so Totem's mission is to repair a blight on the community. "Addition by subtraction" is how Yeotis sees it. And what a lovely addition it is. The building's interior has been completely redone leaving no hint of the former inhabitant. Contemporary pendant lights hang from high ceilings with exposed metal ducts and roof supports while a variety of framed art graces the painted concrete block exterior walls, all giving the space an urban artsy feel. The artwork, Craig told me, is from the owner's personal collection and is currently just part of the decor, but eventually the store has plans to sell artwork.
In addition to a large selection of used books, Totem also offers music on both CD and vinyl, the vinyl being of particular interest to me since my husband and I are fortunate enough to enjoy a variety of antique music players from an old juke box to a fifties-era high fi. A quick thumb through the records turned up a few fun vinyl acquisitions. As it turns out, music is a logical component of Totem Books as the owner also has a music store in Ferndale, called Found Sound, which features new and used LPs, 45s, and CDs.
|Every bookstore should have an old conveyor belt in the basement.|
Totem's large variety of used book titles comes primarily from estate sales and out-of-business shops including 15,000 titles from a recently closed store in Detroit. As part of my tour of the store, I was privileged to get a quick visit to the basement where I viewed seemingly endless boxes of books yet to be sorted and prepped for the shelves, a big job to be sure. Luckily, the staff doesn't have to carry heavy boxes up the basement stairs as the structure is still equipped with a working conveyor belt. Craig explained that before its days as an unsavory liquor store, the building was home to a drug store, and this handy belt was used to transport boxes of pharmaceuticals up the stairs. Now it will carry the panacea of choice for book lovers.
One bright, playful corner of the store is dedicated to children and outfitted with a low table for playing and browsing as well as a big comfy chair just waiting for a child, a lap, and a picture book. Comfortable seating is found in a variety of configurations all over the store. One large conversational area will be perfect for future book club meetings and other activities that the store has planned. Totem Books is focused on being a community resource, providing a space for clubs and a variety of activities.
The store has big plans for the future. Store associate, Sarah Talley, told me about the plans for a café, serving breakfast and lunch, projected to open later this month. What a great spot to grab a bite and check email while using Totem's free WiFi. And as a part of its attitude of service to the community, the shop has plans to maintain a free book rack at the bus stop nearby once the weather is more accommodating. It is apparent that the locals are happy to have Totem Books in their neighborhood. While I was there, one gentleman came in with a big box of books to donate to the store just because he wants to help it succeed.
I feel confident that Totem Books will be a success. The friendly staff, the variety of offerings, the comfortable atmosphere, and the focus on the community are just what this area needs. I also feel confident that I will be paying another visit to the store in the future to see how the business is doing. It isn't in a quaint tourist town, but it is certainly a store worth checking out and a great addition to the Flint community. I'll keep you posted.
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