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Sunday, October 6, 2019

We Get Each Other Through

More than one person in Northport (and you all know who you are!) has told me that my "Books in Northport" posts help them get through the winter, largely because those winter posts in recent years have originated in southeast Arizona. There the Artist and I rent a simple little one-room cabin in a mountain ghost town, where it does occasionally snow but where we need not shovel or plow. I call my unstructured time and adventures in the mountains and high desert a “seasonal retirement,” possible only because so many loyal longtime customers and adventuring new bookstore customers get me through the spring, summer, and fall in Northport. In my eighth decade of life (yes!) and with two younger sisters retired, I do not apologize for taking winters off. I have earned them.

Leelanau County winter

Cochise County winter

My old garden
My first bookstore in Northport was an uninsulated, unheated shed, fine for warm weather, that is, for summer and early fall. Next I tried a Union Street location in Traverse City and hung on for three summers and the intervening two winters, missing my Leelanau County life the whole time. So I went back once again to Northport -- closer to home -- first in yet another unheated, insulated building, but told my new landlord, “I’m in this for the long haul.” That return to Northport was in 1997, and I’ve been here ever since. Three different locations (two with my "long haul" landlord) but all right here in the village. In retrospect, the time has gone by quickly.

Winter on Waukazoo Street, 2016
For many years Dog Ears Books was open through the cold, lonely months of January, February, and March, when I had to take on part-time work elsewhere to keep the bookstore heat on. Copy-editing, book reviewing, substitute teaching, tutoring, cleaning, picking apples — my checkered supplemental employment varied from one year to the next. Over the years, also, I’ve given various answers to the question (which, by the way, I hate), “How do you stay in business?” For a while, I told people the secret was to have “low expectations,” i.e., no one goes into bookselling to get rich! Then I started saying (and it’s true) that I am a very stubborn person and don’t give up easily. 

Now, after 26 years, my answer is simpler: 

How do I stay in business? What keeps my bookstore alive from one year to the next? "I sell books." It’s that simple. There is no trust fund backing me up, no wealthy investors riding on my coattails. It’s true that I don’t expect to get rich and that I’m stubborn, but the absolute bottom line for the continued existence of Dog Ears Books is sales of books. Expanding my selection of new books, focusing more on Michigan writers, and finally making the leap into accepting credit cards have all helped, but the bottom line is still selling books.

106 Waukazoo Street
It's selling books, also, that keeps “Books in Northport” going. This blog has been around since 2007. It’s free for the reading, and I’m happy to help anyone get through the winter, whether they spend the season in Northport or flee to warmer climes. So when the locals who say I help them “get through the winter” come around in spring, summer, and fall to buy books from me, our meetings are warm and happy, whatever the weather, because they appreciate my blog and my bookstore, and I appreciate the fact that they read “Books in Northport” and purchase their books at Dog Ears Books. More than words are involved on both sides: the commitments we have made, we remake and honor one day at a time, year after year. I would be nowhere without the friends and customers who support my bookstore with their loyal patronage, and if my author events and my blog posts and the presence of my bookstore in the village are meaningful to the community, I am happy to continue doing my part.

Looking down Nagonaba to the east

Northport has come a long way from the bleak years of the late 1990s. Businesses have come and gone in that time, as one would expect anywhere, but it feels as if we’re in a pretty good place these days, still small and relatively quiet, yet vibrant and happy, and I’m happy to be part of a small town that continues to support --along with a beautiful harbor, a K-12 school, welcoming library, friendly post office, bank, and grocery store — a small but healthy smattering of restaurants and retail establishments. 

One town in our county  (Empire) recently lost its only grocery store, another (Cedar) will be losing its bank before this month is out, and I realize, once again, that the success of any small town resides in no single business or institution but is dependent on a kind of critical mass. It seems we have achieved that in Northport after years of struggle and hard work. Now the challenge will be to keep what we have, both the success and the friendly, small town atmosphere (and natural environment).

Anyway, thank you, Northport! I'm glad to have put my bookstore roots down in this welcoming community all those years ago and grateful to all of you who support Dog Ears Books, locals or visitors.

Welcome, visitors to Northport!


Helen said...

I’ll make it there one of these days!

P. J. Grath said...

Oh, Helen, I dearly hope so!!!

Maiya Grath said...

BEAUTIFUL!! Kudos to you -- and everyone who supports Dog Ears Books as the amazing community asset it is (and you are).

P. J. Grath said...

Thank you so much, Maiya!

Dawn said...

I love Northport. Even in the winter, though I can see that it is nice to get away then, and when I'm there in the winter it's only for a few days at a time. If I was a single person I think Northport is where I'd live. But the spouse says..."There's so much SNOW up there!" And of course he is correct. But there's plenty of snow here too. Ah well....

P. J. Grath said...

Dawn, I have spent many a winter Up North, from Traverse City to Leland to Northport, and I enjoyed those times in many ways. It was especially fine to get out to break trails through the snow with a bounding puppy, the puppy not waiting for a trail to be broken. I will say that winter seems to be harder for single people. That's what they say, anyway, and I can understand it. That's when getting together with friends in the morning really means a lot.