Jack Malkin is pleased with his new bookstore in downtown Traverse City.
London bookstores can be small and quirky.
Often they’re found down narrow backstreets, behind dusty plate glass windows, the fronts outlined with old, varnished woodwork.
Waiting inside—usually there’s a bell—the owner takes great pleasure in finding the reader just the perfect book: “Ah yes, of course we have that splendid novel . . .” he says, then stands—in Dickensian mode—rubbing his hands with satisfaction as the reader leaves the store, knowing she will be back to this place where books are special and literary, where service is personal, and where the ideas inside books outshine all the disposable hate books, pop-star rip-offs, and cynical tell-alls.
A LITTLE LONDON IN TOWN
London has come to Traverse City in the form of a new downtown bookshop, Brilliant Books (an offshoot of the Sutton’s Bay Brilliant Books), at 118 E. Front Street, just east of the Opera House. It’s owned and run by Londoner, Peter Makin, and his band of book-loving employees.
In this day of huge bookstores closing across the country as the Internet cuts deeply into profits, Peter Makin thinks he’s hit upon the answer.
“I firmly believe the future of book stores is what we’re creating here in Traverse City, a small, deeply personal boutique bookstore,” he says.
“The future won’t be the Amazons or deep discounters—it will be stores catering to the customers’ tastes. Not just books,” Makin claims, “but a marketplace of ideas, if you will.”
Makin’s philosophy of bookstore ownership is to carry only the best the literary world has to offer while maintaining a fierce independence. “No publisher or salesman will ever decide for me what I carry on my shelves or what I display in my front windows,” he says. “Our choice of stock will be customer driven, literary. Not necessarily the most popular books, or the most heavily advertised. We carry the best—whether local writers, national, or international. Even if a book has been out a while, if it’s stood the test of time—you’ll find it here.”
In most bookstores, Makin explains, “You find a book by Wilbur Smith, who writes men’s adventure books, shelved right next to a book by Zady Smith, a young black literary writer, though their readers are very different groups. I’ll carry Zady’s book. That’s the difference in running a boutique book store, we shelve by interest, by importance. You won’t have to wade through miles of books to separate out those you want to read.”
MORE SPACE, BIGGER IDEAS
With 3600 square feet of space, Makin and his crew are planning for much bigger events than he was able to host at his Sutton’s Bay store. “We won’t do just book signings. We will do events that celebrate the book and the people who write them; writers we endorse and care about.”
Though a man of strong ideas and tastes, Peter Makin is very much a realist. His online book sales now account for up to 25% of store business. In his attempt to customize the store to his reading clientele, Makin offers a Surprise Book of the Month Club, an Online book club whose members fill out a short questionnaire on their tastes and what they would like to receive each month. “This is far more labor intensive than simply choosing a single book for everyone, but also far more satisfying—for me and my customers.”
AROUND THE WORLD AND BACK
A native Londoner, Peter Makin came to the United States at the age of 21 and settled in Los Angeles for 10 years. Then he was back to London for another 10 years. Sydney, Australia, for a few more years, and then he met his now wife Colleen, an American from Sutton’s Bay and it was back to the U.S.
He eventually opened the first Brilliant Bookstore on St. Joseph’s Street in Sutton’s Bay, where he found he was able to sustain the business because of the year-long support he received from his customers. The idea of a customer driven and supported bookstore was driven home.
When asked why he thinks Traverse City has become such a big reading and bookstore city he says, “Because there’s so much here to draw people now. I’ve noticed, over the last few years, Traverse City is appealing to a whole new segment of the population: young families drawn to the intellectual atmosphere here and to the beauty of the area. You know, Traverse City has even been called the San Francisco of the north.”
According to Jack Hannert, the store manager, who once worked for Barnes and Noble, big plans are in the works for a large open house. “There will be a lot of surprises, lots of giveaways. We want people to come in and see what we’re about,” he said.
The open house, though still being planned, is slated for sometime in November.
FOR LOVE OF READING
“We love books and we love people,” Peter says. “Opening a new shop is like grating cheese. You grate and grate and don’t seem to be getting anywhere, until you lift the grater and there it is: an amazingly big pile of cheese.”
Maybe there’s no dust here, no narrow London street, but there is the huge plate-glass window displaying Peter’s eclectic tastes in literature, there is the varnished oak woodwork, and inside the shop, an obvious love of good writing and an owner who takes great satisfaction in finding readers just the book they’ve been looking for.