A local icon, the Dawn Treader book shop has been buying and selling used and rare books in Ann Arbor for nearly 50 years. A family business founded by Bill Gillmore, the shop was purchased by employee Africa Schaumann in 2022. She started working at the shop in 2018, then later that year, she assumed the role of manager after the death of Corby Gillmore, Bill’s son.
An indie book store fan turned employee
“I’d just returned to my hometown of Ypsilanti after college and was visiting local bookstores with my dad, a favorite past-time of ours, and I saw a help wanted sign in the window,” said Schaumann. “I was told later I was hired for my experience repairing books. I probably owe my preservation mentor a steak dinner or something, because I truly don’t know if I would have gotten the job without that credential,” she added.
“I also worked on the coolest organic farm in Tennessee for a couple summers,” she said.
“All these roles taught me about the business I’d want to run, if ever I was to run one. Experience in both book retail and book borrowing – libraries are just as much about community-building as book lending – informs how I run the Dawn Treader now,” she added.
“When I was young, my dad would sell books to Hedger Breed of White Raven Books, and now 25 years later, Hedger is a friend and colleague of mine. All the used and antiquarian booksellers in my orbit, Jay and Doug at West Side Book Shop and Gene at Motte & Bailey Booksellers especially, have been incredibly supportive and encouraging. I’ve learned a lot from them over the past few years.”
Navigating learning curves and a global pandemic
For Schaumann, the area where she thinks she has the most learning to do are what many small business owners can relate to as “the boring parts.”
“I’d taken accounting and economics classes and a business law class in undergrad, but there are a lot of details to attend to, that I’ve had to learn on the fly over the past five years. I’m glad that I got to manage the store before buying it, because by then, I was very familiar with the ins-and-outs of the store’s needs and how to help it thrive.”
Schaumann managed the shop through the pandemic in part through a GoFundMe, including media interviews to get publicity for the effort.
“I hadn’t done anything like that before, but when it’s ‘make it or break like it’ like it was for us, I had to figure it all out as I went. The store is still here because of the support of our incredibly generous community of bibliophiles,” said Schaumann.
“I always love talking to students and alumni. For intro classes, we have your Aristotle, Plato, Homer…For your down time, we have excellent and affordable novels, and a great staff to recommend a book if you’re not sure where to start. We often have books that came out within the past five years, virtually unread, and priced at less than half of original retail. For collectors, we have a vast collection of first edition, signed and out-of-print books. Most excitingly, we just received a special collection of signed, first edition Edward Gorey books, and dozens of signed, first edition books by several different Beat authors including Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, Jack Kerouac and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. We offer a little bit of everything for everyone, whether they’re coming into the stacks to get lost, to escape the noise of life, or are escaping into a book (even if that book is about The Black Death, we don’t judge).”
In the future, Schaumann plans to sponsor and host community-focused author events, like talks, readings and signings.
“The community can continue to support the Dawn Treader by buying books from us and introducing others to the Dawn Treader! One of my favorite things to see is a person who has visited the store, fallen in love with it, and then they return with others. Knowing that people love the store so much that they introduce their friends and family to our shop makes my heart grow three sizes,” she said.
The Dawn Treader is located at 514 E Liberty in Ann Arbor. If you’re looking for a specific book, you can also email email@example.com or call (734) 995-1008 and the team will take a look and respond with pricing and availability. Email and phone orders ship in a few days. You can also buy gift cards on the Dawn Treader website, and a few items are available in a shop on Abe Books.