And it all comes down to two things: one, she loves retail, and two, Julie Norcross loves books.
Born in Petoskey, but having spent lots of time elsewhere, Norcross and her husband moved back to her hometown in 1979, after having lived in Memphis, Tennessee for seven years, the whole time longing to get back to Northern Michigan.
Although the Horizon Books chain had already been in Petoskey for years by the time Norcross returned, she still felt that there was a need for a different kind of more personal bookstore, and that the two could co-exist well in the same small town. So books it was - and there would be no franchising for Norcross; she envisioned an independent bookstore with a foundation just as rooted in the people who work at the bookstore as in the books themselves.
The juice of our store are the people who work here, Norcross confirms. Theyre gracious and courteous, and we pride ourselves on being book detectives. Even if a book has gone all the way to the book graveyard, well still try to help you find it - we hate to say no.
Norcross takes that customer relations philosophy seriously, finding it a pleasure to assist her book-reading customers in all manner of ways. Those customers may be surprised to learn that they can count on Norcross and her crew to supply
even more than the shops remarkable variety of books.
In addition to seeking out books, well make hotel or restaurant reservations for people, help them find rental cars, find them an emergency dentist or doctor if needed. Courtesy and generosity of spirit are perhaps not in great supply these days; we want people to be happier when they leave our store than when they came in, and we want them to have great memories of Petoskey. Its just not that hard to be nice.
And customers notice, as do other organizations. McLean & Eakin is constantly cited for their great selection, wonderful special events, author visits, book signings, and the inviting atmosphere of the shop. Its an old-school approach that works, and thats right in line with the assumed philosophy of Petoskeys downtown Gaslight District.
Its not that you want to remain in the 1940s or anything like that, Norcross explains, but you have to recognize that historic travel is one of the main reasons that people travel at all. They want to see something evocative of the history of the area that theyre visiting. I am really concerned about recognizing and valuing an independent community here in Petoskey, and I am worried that without good zoning, planning, and foresight, downtown Petoskey could end up looking like a mall. We have to be careful.
The bookseller has also been given several national awards, two of the most notable being the Haslam Award for Excellence in Bookselling (only one of these awards is given each year), and the Lucile Micheels Pannell Award, in which McLean & Eakin won one of only two awards given each year for
their exceptional Childrens Books Department and childrens events. These are especially big accomplishments for an independent bookstore in this day and age of a Barnes and Noble or Borders on every other corner.
Well, the Barnes and Noble crowd definitely exists, Norcross agrees, but I think we are mostly over that time period we went through where people would show up at our store merely to hand us an Amazon.com printout. People are now fully aware that they can order online, and thats fine - but a preponderance of our customers say that they like knowing that there are people they can meet with in person who understand what theyre looking for, and who can make book recommendations for them.
After weve really listened to them talk to us about the books theyve read and loved, were better able to then suggest great further reading for them, she adds. The big-box stores may have their automated systems, but from what Ive been told, theyre not that accurate, and definitely dont offer the personalized service that we enjoy so much. We like finding new books and things to truly delight our customers.
HOT BOOKS FOR FALL
And whether youre pondering James Joyce or dishing about Bridget Jones, there are no book snobs here -- there are books for every reading palate, and probably more new authors than youll ever have time to read.
Its good to read all different kinds of books, Norcross says. I mean, sometimes you want rack of lamb, sometimes you just want a hot dog.
So what does Norcross, surrounded by books and publishing house info on a daily basis, think are a few of the hottest reads coming up for this fall?
Definitely Bill Brysons The Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid, she exclaims right away. Its a memoir of growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, and its a laugh-out-loud book that will charm both men and women; that ones going to be huge. For the girls, Nora Ephrons I Feel Bad About My Neck is hilarious; and a terrific short story collection that I really love is one by Ben Fountain called Brief Encounters with Che Guevera - someone once said that, in novels, characters are developed, and in short stories, characters are revealed, but I think that in this particular set of Fountains short stories, the characters are definitely developed. Theyre fabulous stories. Oh, and one more book is called Abundance by Sena Jeter Naslund, who also wrote Ahabs Wife, and Four Spirits - its incredible; its a Marie Antoinette story for whats turning into a Marie Antoinette fall, with that movie coming out as well, so youd best get your crown out! she laughs.
Remarkably, Norcross rattled all of these book recommendations off without once turning to a computer or printout of any sort. Her enthusiasm for books is so ingrained, it comes out of her as naturally as a chef might talk about a new recipe, or an artist about his current painting.
Although she personally favors history books, biographies, and cookbooks, shes interested in every single book that comes through her store, and its that kind of genuine interest in her work that is likely a large part of what makes McLean & Eakin one of the most successful bookstores around, although Norcross always brings the kudos right back to her staff.
The success of the store does depend on the staff. One of the first things we ask when we hire new staffers is if they like people. Of course it helps if they love books, but we can train the rest - the people come first.
McLean & Eakin Booksellers is located at 307 Lake Street in downtown Petoskey, telephone 231-347-1180 - they are open Mon.-Sat., 9am to 8pm, Sundays, 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. They may also be visited online at www.mcleanandeakin.com.