By Erin Crowell
Horizon Books sits on prime realty. Somewhere between the tourist
artery of Front Street, the neighboring State Theatre, the gentle flow
of the Boardman River, and the aqua blue of West Bay at her backside,
the 49-year-old bookstore has become its own local landmark an
invariable symbol of prosperity.
The family owned and operated bookstore reminds us that the little guy
can survive in a world of giants. All over the country, small
bookstores are closing shop threatened by corporate Goliaths and
digital literature that is eBook and Kindle; but the Traverse City
bookstorenow a chain, with locations in Cadillac and Petoskeyhas
remained a constant, as assuredly there as the horizon, itself.
Recently, Express readers voted Horizon Books as the Best Place to
Browse in the Grand Traverse region for the 2010 Best Of Northern
We created something right from the beginning that we knew people
would enjoy, says Vic Herman, owner and president of Horizon. You
dont have to buy anything. You can just come and enjoy yourself
although we wouldnt be in business if people didnt buy things.
THE THIRD PLACE
Herman has taken pride in describing Horizon Books as the third
place, a communal refuge as coined by urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg
(from his book, The Great Good Place).
Most needed are those third places which lend a public balance to
the increased privatization of home life. Third places are nothing
more than informal public gathering places, Oldenburg writes. The
phrase third places derives from considering our homes to be the
first places in our lives, and our work places the second The
character of a third place is determined most of all by its regular
clientele and is marked by a playful mood, which contrasts with
peoples more serious involvement in other spheres.
Horizons third place habitants are as diverse as its literature
stacks, housing the local and out-of-town, the old and young the
store is twice the age as most of its front bench regulars, a
collection of lounging teenagers with nothing but time and a warm
College students nest at the café counters, buried behind laptops with
WiFi access; and professionals meet for coffee and tea (local, of
course). On the weekend, acoustic music floats up the stairs, played
by musicians in the cozy recesses of the basement, where you can play
a game of chess or browse the glossies.
The fun is all the different people we attract all ages, both male
and female, says Amy Reynolds, Hermans wife and sales manager of the
store. Weve never tried to be high brow.
Horizon Books was featured in Oldenburgs 2001 book Celebrating the
Third Place: Inspiring stories about the great good places.
Vic realized that his business was more than books. His orientation
was broader than mere product. Great selection, long hours, and
attention to the customer led to a steady and recurring clientele,
Paul LaPorte writes in the book. Its clear that the community spirit
imparted by Horizon Books has made an impact not only on Vics family
and employees but also on the loyal patrons who have helped elevate
the store to the third place haven it has become.
JUST SAY YES
Both Reynolds and Herman agree that the bookstore is community-driven.
The community decides what it wants. As Ive said it to Vic before:
our job is to just say yes, said Reynolds.
That means saying yes to nearly 1,000 events annually, which take the
form of book clubs, live musical performances, area group meetings,
clubs, books signings and more.
Its a very grassroots community, and were just responding, says Reynolds.
Ive never been in a place like this, adds Herman, where people
create their own environment.
The couple figures there are always at least two events happening
daily, whether its a knitting group or the popular Songwriters in the
Round a local group of musicians that have been performing in the
lower level of the bookstore since its opening in 1993.
Horizon Books moved from across the street to its current location in
1993, then the old JC Penney building on Front Street. In fashion, the
move was a community decision.
Warren Studley and his wife Lois helped spearhead the move, says Reynolds.
The move took literally one day. Front Street was shut down and over
120 volunteers moved merchandise and books to the new community hot
I dont think we were even closed that day, recalls Herman.
It seems the community made a good decision, as business picked up and
more customers stopped by.
In one year, almost to the penny, our sales doubled, says Herman.
FESTIVALS AND PROFIT
Herman and Reynolds saw another positive impact when they added the
downstairs Sunshine Café in 1997; and they hope to continue that trend
this summer when the café unofficially reopens in early April, with
upgrades including a panini grill, pizza oven, soft drink fountain and
deli case. The bookstore already houses the fully operational Cuppa
Joe Café, located near the main entrance.
When it comes to profits and local festivals, Reynolds says the
bookstore doesnt see the impact most people would expect.
People ask us, Isnt it great? and were like, Eh, it doesnt
really matter too much for us, says Reynolds.
Actually, sales for Horizon Books drops 30 percent during the Cherry
Festival, an annual pattern, says Reynolds. In regards to the Film
Festival, sales go up slightly.
The couple believes its the community that represents most of the
stores sales to begin with.
During Cherry Festival, a lot of our customers just stay home, says Reynolds.
Its a statement that drives the point home that through Horizon
Books, the community has found, and created, its third place. Like any
local business, Horizon Books and its success is measured by its
We try to run a sharp store, with great books and a welcoming
environment, says Herman. The community does the rest.
Horizon Books is located at 243 East Front St. in downtown Traverse
City. The Petoskey store is at 319 E. Mitchell St.; and the Cadillac
store is located at 115 S. Mitchell St. For hours of operation and
more information on weekly and special events, visit horizonbooks.com.
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