Shaman Drum to close June 30

We’ve known it was coming for a while, but now we have a date. The last day to peruse the aisles of Ann Arbor’s beloved independent bookstore, Shaman Drum, will be June 30. I think I speak for a lot of folks when I say, it’s a damn shame, and our thoughts tonight are with the employees and their families. (You can’t see me, but I’m lifting my beer.) Here’s hoping you all land on your feet and find fulfilling work here in Michigan.

The good news is, Karl Pohrt, the owner of Shaman Drum, doesn’t plan to exit the local literary scene when the store closes. He’s in the process of launching a new non-profit called the Great Lakes Literary Arts Center, and, one would imagine that through that organization he’ll be continuing much of the work that Shaman Drum was known for.

Here, for those of you who are interested, is the announcement, taken from the Shaman Drum website.

On the advice of my accountant and my business manager, I am closing Shaman Drum Bookshop June 30. Despite a first rate staff, a fiercely loyal core of customers, a very decent landlord and my own commitment to the community of arts and letters in Ann Arbor, it is clear to me that the bookshop is not a sustainable business.

In spite of the downturn in the economy, Ann Arbor continues to be an excellent book town. There are wonderful independent stores here (Crazy Wisdom, Nicolas’s Books), fine specialty book stores (Vault of Midnight, Aunt Agatha’s) and great used bookshops (Dawn Treader, West Side Books, Motte & Bailey). They need your support.

Over a year ago we began a process to become a non-profit center for the literary arts. I am decoupling Shaman Drum Bookshop from the Great Lakes Literary Arts Center, which should simplify and streamline our IRS application. I will pursue this new venture after we close the store.

Shaman Drum Bookshop has been here for 29 years. We had 28 good years. Thank you for your support. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to be a bookseller in Ann Arbor.

-Karl Pohrt

And the following analysis comes by way of the LA Times blog:

…In February, Pohrt had sounded the alarm, writing that textbook sales declined $510,000 from the year before, and that despite $80,000 subequent cuts in payroll and operating expenses, the store was still in trouble. He wrote that the decline was sudden and steep, and the community — at least from this distance — seemed to rally in support.

“It’s part of the lifeblood of the community,” University of Michigan graduate student Ken Garner told the Ann Arbor News. “It’s really been central to Ann Arbor’s intellectual life.” (The Ann Arbor News itself is set to close in late July.)

If Pohrt gets the Great Lakes Literary Arts Center off the ground, which he seems likely to do, it still leaves the question of what role bookstores play in our communities today — and tomorrow. Will the other independent Ann Arbor community bookstores be able to survive on the remaining book sales, or are they simply not enough to sustain the business? Has Shaman Drum fallen to a one-time disaster — Michigan’s worst-in-the-nation economy — or is its decline part of a trend that will continue to topple decades-old bookstores nationwide? Will our future literary lives be split between buying books online and hanging out at the local literary nonprofit?…

At this rate, one wonders what Ann Arbor will look like in another 5 years, if we continue to sit by and watch our local business ecosystem fall to pieces.

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7 Comments

  1. Posted June 10, 2009 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Where can I go for clerks to be rude to me? Is Schoolkids records still open?

  2. Otterman
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    I always felt illiterate there. But I liked the store.

    Does anyone know if they owned the building? If so, they’re probably sitting on a gold mine — no need to feel sorry for the owner.

  3. West Cross
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    They mention a “very decent landlord” so I’m guessing they don’t own the building.

  4. Andy Ypsilanti
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    I can think of a near by city with much lower rent and great open buildings that would welcome Shaman Drum…

  5. Mugambe
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    I was an employee of Shaman Drum for 10 years – they did not own the building. This March, they were able to get out of their lease for the second floor of the building when they decided to close the textbook department + held the first round of lay-offs. Now, they are closing the downstairs trade bookstore floor. With their current financial situation, I think it’s safe to say that it would be impossible for them to move to another location, be it Ypsi or anywhere else. At this point, it would appear that the GLAAC will be Karl’s vehicle for contributing to the literary arts environment in Washtenaw County. I wish him the best of luck.

  6. Posted June 11, 2009 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    I’m very sad to see it go. Very sad.

  7. UBU507
    Posted November 8, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, how ’bout that Great Lakes Literary Arts Center!

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