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Michigan's Shaman Drum bookstore to close June 30

June 9, 2009 |  4:05 pm

Shamandrum
Karl Pohrt, owner of Shaman Drum Bookshop in Ann Arbor, Mich., announced online today that he will close the bookstore after 29 years in business. On the bookstore's blog in a post titled "The Last Chapter," he wrote:

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. ...

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.

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?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Fox News filming at Shaman Drum in January 2009. Credit: Shaman Drum

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