Celebrating National Women’s Month With Literati’s Hilary Gustafson

To celebrate National Women’s month, we chatted with the owner of Ann Arbor’s beloved Literati Bookstore, Hilary Gustafson.

Gustafson shared her thoughts on owning a small business in Ann Arbor, her favorite ways to support women and suggestions for our community on finding and uplifting women-owned businesses. She had some fantastic tips to share for any woman who is considering starting her own business.

Ann Arbor is a gem for locally owned restaurants and businesses by women. But it’s only through community support that such businesses can open and flourish. 

Gustafson encourages folks to support the local businesses in Ann Arbor that they value.

“With chain businesses like Dunkin’ Donuts coming in, small businesses are going to find it harder to afford rent. If these local businesses get pushed out, we’ll lose some of our unique downtown culture and move closer to being a generic downtown with the same stores and restaurants you see everywhere,” Gustafson said. 

Literati Bookstore is a vibrant part of Ann Arbor’s downtown culture, supporting new and marginalized voices while providing a welcoming and whimsical community space.

Literati makes an intentional effort to support women in the community and women in business by thoughtfully representing women’s voices on Literati’s shelves. Gustafson ensures that a broad and diverse spectrum of voices from women carries throughout each section of the store, and she personally makes a point to shop at women-owned businesses in the community.

An easy way for any of us book-lovers to support women is to cast a critical eye at the books we are reading. Are we reading books written by women? Are we reading books that fully represent women? Are we giving our children books that support women’s voices?

Local communities are the make-or-break of many women-owned businesses. Gustafson reflects on how Ann Arbor’s community was the main factor in Literati’s creation

“Before we opened, we met with so many different people in the community–former booksellers, former and current bookstore owners, teachers, professors, publishers, authors and many more,” Gustafson said.

Her goal was to intimately understand Ann Arbor’s culture. She grew up here, and felt a great loss at the closing of Borders in 2011.

“Borders started in Ann Arbor and grew to be a huge company, and was for so many years an important part of the downtown cultural fabric,” Gustafson said.

When the independent bookstore Shaman Drum closed (a go-to bookstore for the University of Michigan), Gustafson and her husband Michael felt that downtown Ann Arbor could use a general bookstore again. 

As Literati developed, they cultivated programs to highlight a range of voices by doing 3-5 in-store events per week (author readings, panels, book clubs and more) as well as partnering with local organizations, schools and businesses to do offsite events at locations such as the Ann Arbor Public Library, 826 Michigan’s afterschool programs and more. 

When we support women-owned businesses in our community, this also offers the opportunity to cultivate a symbiotic relationship between businesses and customers.

Literati’s inventory is constantly evolving with their customers’ input: “Initially we didn’t have a lot of genre fiction,”Gustafson said. “But, in the last few years our science fiction and fantasy, romance, horror and mystery sections have really taken off based on demand from our community.”

Another way to ensure we are supporting women is looking at who our patronized businesses support. Literati hires locally, pays local taxes and donates to local non-profit organizations and schools. Gustafson encourages people to take a step beyond just shopping at local businesses by getting to know them.

“Talk with the owners and workers at your local businesses,” Gustafson said. “Just getting to know the stores and their successes and challenges can make you feel more invested in your community.”

If you’re curious about which local stores are owned by women, Gustafson shared some of her favorite women-owned business recommendations with us: Dear Golden (a vintage clothing store), Rock, Paper, Scissors (one-of-a-kind Michigan gifts and souvenirs), TeaHaus (175 teas available as well as a tea bar and lounge with tea-infused cocktails), Thistle and Bess (vintage one-of-a-kind antique treasures and curated goods) and Spun (a yarn shop).

Some of Gustafson’s favorite women-owned restaurants include Sava’s, Aventura, Frita Batidos, Detroit Street Filling Station and Cafe Zola.

If you are a woman interested in starting a business yourself, Gustafson encourages you to reach out to fellow women business owners.

“Most business owners I know are eager to help other businesses thrive and grow,” she said.

When she was beginning the journey to create Literati, she reached out to the owners of Greenlight Bookstore and they were incredibly supportive.

“They shared their business plan with me, let me work in the store, and gave invaluable advice that led to our success,” Gustafson said.

Plus, Literati is a smashing success, bringing so much creativity into downtown. Literati’s been named the 2019 PW Bookstore of the Year, has been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered and NBC Nightly News and their booksellers are on the board of Independent Booksellers Consortium. Support the store by buying books or related merchandise here!

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