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McLean & Eakin

Kristi Kates - September 14th, 2006
Julie Norcross is one cool booksellin’ lady.  The founder and owner of McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Norcross, even after 14 years in business, is always right on top of what’s going on in the publishing world, and is just as excited about it as the day she opened her shop.
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. “They’re gracious and courteous, and we pride ourselves on being book detectives.  Even if a book has gone all the way to the book graveyard, we’ll 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 shop’s remarkable variety of books. 
“In addition to seeking out books, we’ll 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.  It’s 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.  It’s an old-school approach that works, and that’s right in line with the assumed philosophy of Petoskey’s downtown Gaslight District. 
“It’s 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 they’re 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 Children’s Books Department and children’s 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 printout.  People are now fully aware that they can order online, and that’s 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 they’re looking for, and who can make book recommendations for them. 
“After we’ve really listened to them talk to us about the books they’ve read and loved, we’re better able to then suggest great further reading for them,” she adds. “The big-box stores may have their automated systems, but from what I’ve been told, they’re not that accurate, and definitely don’t offer the personalized service that we enjoy so much. We like finding new books and things to truly delight our customers.”
And whether you’re 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 you’ll ever have time to read. 
“It’s 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 Bryson’s “The Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid,”” she exclaims right away. “It’s a memoir of growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, and it’s a laugh-out-loud book that will charm both men and women; that one’s going to be huge.  For the girls, Nora Ephron’s “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 Fountain’s short stories, the characters are definitely developed.  They’re fabulous stories.  Oh, and one more book is called “Abundance” by Sena Jeter Naslund, who also wrote “Ahab’s Wife,” and “Four Spirits” - it’s incredible; it’s a Marie Antoinette story for what’s turning into a Marie Antoinette fall, with that movie coming out as well, so you’d 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, she’s interested in every single book that comes through her store, and it’s 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
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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