By Amy Kuras
December 18, 2014
On a drizzly Sunday afternoon, Janet Jones zips around her Source Booksellers
on Cass Avenue, greeting customers, finding and re-shelving books, and making suggestions to browsers that reflect her encyclopedic, insightful knowledge of every title on her shelves. She cheers "newbies," greets regulars by name, engages everyone in conversation about their purchases, and recognizes just about every person who has visited the shop in her two years in the Auburn or the previous 13 she spent as part of the Spiral Collective across the street.
You can't get every book in existence at Source Booksellers. Jones offers mostly nonfiction books loosely organized around four categories: History and Culture, Health and Wellness, Metaphysics and Spirituality, and books by and about women. You will, however, almost assuredly find exactly what you need to read next, whether you knew you were looking for it when you walked in the door or not. "I hand-select everything," she says. "It's very interactive." The stock reflects not only her own interests, but recommendations from customers who come in and suggest a book she might want to consider carrying.
That unique personal relationship is why she's been able to survive and thrive in the age of Amazon (not to mention an ever-eroding interest in reading among adults), she says. "It's a 24-hour commitment to the public," Jones says. "If it will be a business that serves the community, it must be grown with trust, acceptance, reliability, and service. You can't just plop down and expect people to love you."
Jones has been in Midtown since before it was Midtown. The neighborhood's boom in development has been a huge benefit, Jones says. She's adapted some offerings to the new clientele brought by the thriving restaurant and retail culture, but hasn't lost her original vision –for example, books about whisky and bicycles rest among the shelves of vegan cookbooks and philosophy texts. "We want to have books about what the neighborhood is offering, but still maintain our core," she says.
Source Booksellers also hosts a series of events, such as frequent book talks, author events, and quarterly conversations on the changing of the seasons and its effect on our lives – Jones's daughter, a philosophy professor, frequently leads these. All of this lends to the sense of Source Booksellers as a center for people who love ideas. It's not a place you'd come for the latest blockbuster, but if there's a book all your smartest friends are reading, chances are she'll have it or can get it. "We do some new releases, but not a lot – that's us chasing the books instead of the books coming to us," Jones says.
Jones began her career as a bookseller many years ago, when she would attend community events and bring books along to sell that she thought that people attending the event would want to know about. "Today, they call that pop-ups," she says. After she retired from a 41-year career as a teacher and administrator in Detroit Public Schools, the opportunity to join the Spiral Collective group of women entrepreneurs came up and she opened her first brick and mortar space. When the Auburn came along, she was drawn to the possibilities of what she could create with more space and more shelving available. The vision of Source Booksellers evolved over time and built on the relationships she's created, Jones says. "When this space opened up, we wanted to explore what is possible," she says. Two years later, she's created a place where people feel comfortable, welcomed, and intellectually and spiritually nurtured. One customer called Source's very existence "a semi-miraculous event" – and in an increasingly digital world, which trades convenience for connection, it’s hard not to agree.
All photos by Marvin Shaouni.