A Cultural One-Two Punch
Nowadays, just being an "independent" bookstore is a brand identity, but when Karl Pohrt opened Shaman Drum in 1980, there were different kinds of independent bookstores. He staked out the humanities territory, distinguishing himself from the nearby, trade book-focused Borders with his dense selection of books by university and small presses.
To compress a few decades of history into a paragraph: Borders became a publicly traded corporation with 1,000 stores; Shaman Drum expanded and began selling textbooks upstairs. When Internet and on-demand book fulfillment began eroding bricks-and-mortar bookstores, textbooks kept Shaman Drum on life support. The Drum's strength in the humanities, and role as a venue for many literary events, made it beloved by U-M humanities faculty, who often sent their students there for textbooks. But when U-M began requiring faculty to post, well in advance, ISBNs for required textbooks, students could buy even textbooks online, and Shaman Drum called it quits.
"It was more painful waiting for the ax to fall than when it finally fell," says Chris Stier, who has worked at Shaman Drum since 1992. Stier-she's the tiny, wiry woman with a thick white braid and an equally thick Boston accent-says it was a relief when Pohrt finally announced the bookstore's closing in June: "It was inevitable, and it was hard to lie to people." Pohrt planned to close at the end of June.