"Most towns don't even have one independent bookstore," says Rachel Pastiva. "We have eleven!"
From the November, 2016 issue
Sounds good--except that, in Pastiva's experience, most Ann Arborites can name only three or four. Outside the city, even fewer realize how big a book town it is. "Our bookstores struggle!" Pastiva exclaims. "They don't have the time and the money to put themselves out."
But now they do have an advocate in Pastiva, who recently organized the Ann Arbor Independent Booksellers Association (a2books.org). Although the manager of Crazy Wisdom, she's acting independently and receives no money for the association from it or any other store. "This isn't Rachel Pastiva, manager of Crazy Wisdom," she says. "It's Rachel Pastiva, book lover of Ann Arbor!"
Her biggest step to date has been creating a walking tour map, complete with write-ups, of all eleven stores, from the north side Bookbound to the west side Nicola's. In between are the Fourth Ave. quintet--Aunt Agatha's, Common Language, Motte & Bailey, Kaleidoscope, and Literati--and downtown's Crazy Wisdom, Dawn Treader, Vault of Midnight, and West Side Bookshop. Printed at her own expense and available at the stores, the maps have proved so popular that she's produced almost 3,000 so far.
In addition to promoting each store's unique strength (Aunt Agatha's is mysteries; Common Language is the only GLBT-focused bookstore in the state), she wants to boost the city's "book culture," which encompasses everything from author readings to the plethora of used book sales. To encourage groups of book-loving tourists to visit and browse, she recently wrote a post titled "Ann Arbor is a Book Lover's Destination" on the website of the Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
That Ann Arbor has so many independents is "remarkable," says Pastiva. But in the age of Amazon and e-books, no store takes survival for granted. Mike Gustafson, co-owner of Literati, expresses alarm that Amazon has started opening brick-and-mortar stores in a few states. "What Rachel's trying to do is fantastic!" he says. Common Language has held fundraisers to rally community support. "The more people associate
us as a bookstore town, the better off we all are," says co-owner Keith Orr.
Pastiva majored in creative writing at Bowling Green, picked up a library degree from Wayne State, and worked at Borders for several years before hiring on at Crazy Wisdom almost a decade ago. She got the idea to organize independents while on the board of the Ann Arbor Book Festival. She's now working on getting IRS recognition as a 501(c)3 nonprofit.
To carve out more time for her calling, Pastiva plans to quit her full-time job at Crazy Wisdom next spring. "I realize if I want to put the passion I have into this, I need to find a job [that's] less demanding," she says. "I really love advocating for the bookstores!"
[Originally published in November, 2016.]
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