Ann Arbor

No mystery why it’s a great store . . . #mysteries #bookstores #fridayinterview @agnewrobin

Columbus, Ohio, boosters, take note: Ann Arbor, Michigan (you’ve heard of it, right?) has eight bookstores just in its downtown area. If we’re geographically generous and stretch our definition of Columbus’s downtown to include German Village, we can add the inestimable Book Loft to our count. So, along with the Statehouse gift shop, that would be: two. (Sorry, I’m not conceding the books they sell in the Brewer’s Yard Kroger, as nice a store as that is.) With hundreds of people moving downtown, maybe this is a retail gap that should be addressed? Just a thought?

In any case, I had the pleasure of participating in a mystery writers’ open house at one of those Ann Arbor stores recently. Jamie and Robin Agnew have run Aunt Agatha’s New & Used Mysteries, Detection & True Crime Books for the past twenty years. It a mystery lover’s heaven and worth a visit any time you’re, you know, in Ann Arbor for some reason. Afterward, I chatted briefly with Robin, and our conversation is this week’s #fridayinterview.

I’m from Mars and don’t know anything about Ann Arbor or bookstores. What’s Aunt Agatha’s?

RA: It’s an all-mystery bookstore, new and used books. You can probably find any kind of backlist title you ever want to find.

How did you come to run an all-mystery bookstore?

RA: When we opened the store my husband had worked at Borders, and he was tired of it, and I loved mysteries, so we were like, “Oh, let’s just open up a mystery book store.” And it’s also a genre you can specialize in. There’s so many books!

Why mysteries? 

RA: We lived in Minneapolis before we lived here and there’s a great store there called Uncle Edgar’s. We used to go there all the time. And it’s the same as us, all mysteries, new and used mixed together, and we kind of modeled it on that store.

How are independent bookstores doing?

RA: I think they’re in a little bit of a resurgence. … There’s been two that opened here in the last two years that seem to be doing fine. I don’t know about nationwide but here it seems pretty strong.

Conventional wisdom is that e-books have plateaued at about thirty percent of sales. Do you agree?

RA: I think people divide up their reading. You know, if they’re traveling, they read electronically, but a lot of people still want to own a book pretty much.

Will that be the status quo going ahead? 

RA: I don’t know. … A lot of my older customers don’t like reading electronically at all, and our customers certainly skew older. But my kids are in their twenties and they read actual books.

Favorite authors?

RA: I love Kent Krueger, Louise Penny, Steve Hamilton, Julia Keller. Julia Spencer-Fleming, although she’s not writing not now, but I love her books.

What’s the most fun thing about running Aunt Agatha’s?

RA: Meeting authors, for sure, by far the best part of it.

Back to the question above: Why mysteries?

RA: I think they’re the best books being written right now. They’ve got everything, they’ve got character, story, everything. The writing’s great, a lot of them have really deep themes in them. They can’t be beat. They’re the best.

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