Bookie Joint in Traverse City closing
October 13 – TRAVERSE CITY – Between 15,000 and 20,000? More than 25,000?
Jann Norton isn’t sure how many used books are on the Bookie Joint’s shelves. She’s sure there are plenty of tomes in the downtown Traverse City store.
“Thousands,” Norton said, phrasing her words more like a question than an answer. “I know because I moved them all. I tried to let it flow the way I wanted it to.”
Regardless of how many books, stickers, and cards are packed in the store at 124 S. Union St., Norton has a story for each individual book, as well as for the foreign currency under glass on the counter top. Norton said owning a bookstore was a bit like being a bartender, and she’d heard so many stories from so many customers from far and wide.
But the store, which she owned and ran herself for the past 15 years, tells a different story to Norton. It’s a story she can’t ignore.
“It is with great sadness that I will close The Bookie Joint by October 31, 2021,” wrote Norton on Facebook. “I want everyone to know how much I value your business and your loyalty. It has been my honor and pleasure to serve you all. Many of you have become an important part of my day. Thanks very much.”
Norton – who still writes a ticket for sale on a pad next to a calculator that is supposedly infrequent – said it made two sales on Aug. 31 for $ 12 with a tax of 66 cents.
After Norton had no vacation for 15 years and was open seven days a week during the summer since buying The Bookie Joint on June 20, 2006, Norton announced a sale that began on September 27.
“All of this confirmed to me that I had no choice on the matter, ‘I have to do this,'” said Norton, who knows she’s just a small business owner who made the same decision over the last 18 years Months. “‘You worked your ass off and you loved the place.”
The story goes on
“My heart caught up with my brain. That doesn’t mean I’m not doing the right thing.”
It doesn’t mean that the decision to close The Bookie Joint after decades in business doesn’t hurt. The Bookie Joint was a fixture in the Arcade Building on Front Street before moving to Union Street.
“I’ve cried a million tears and customers keep coming in crying,” said Norton. “So many people have become such a big part of my day and I thank them for that.”
Many customers and even other bookstore owners thank Norton.
Paul Stebleton sold books under the name “Book-o-Rama” and rented space in the back of the Bookie Joint for 20 years before opening Landmark Books in The Village at Grand Traverse Commons 8 years ago.
“It was sad to hear that it was going to close,” said Stebleton. “I’m really sorry about that, but it makes (economically) sense.”
Norton can thank fate or fortune for buying the store.
Norton grew up in Ann Arbor and moved to Traverse City “on Halloween night 1983”, partly on the recommendation of a doctor to find less humid air after a series of lung diseases, and partly to help her current ex-husband in a failed business venture .
After 10 years in Oregon and another 1 1/2 years in Ann Arbor, Norton returned to her adopted home on New Year’s Eve 1996. She was a housewife with three boys and also worked in accounting for a couple of local companies.
Norton said she was considering running a small business like The Bookie Joint, where she was a frequent customer. She even told her former boss in Oregon that it had always been her dream.
Flash forward to 2006, and Norton said she traded several heavy bags of books for store credit at The Bookie Joint on the Thursday before Memorial Weekend and circled downtown four times looking unsuccessfully for parking near the store.
She came back Friday morning, found a parking lot nearby, dropped off her books, and went shopping for almost an hour. Norton said Shelly Barnes, who owned the store with her husband Bob Hicks, recognized her and asked what she was up to and what she was up to.
“I said, ‘I want to buy a small business in downtown Traverse City,'” Norton recalls. “She said, ‘Oh my god. We made the decision to sell last night.'”
Norton said she and Barnes had started jumping up and down. Norton said Stebleton got first choice at The Bookie Joint, declined and Norton was quick to accept.
“We agreed a price, I gave them freelancers to get used to the business, and I took over the company on June 20,” said Norton.
As it turned out, the day she intended to come to The Bookie Joint, Barnes was volunteering instead of working when she drove home with her book bags because she couldn’t find a parking space nearby.
“If I had come in on Thursday I wouldn’t have known about it,” said Norton.
Norton said she didn’t know much about running a business but learned a lot. Norton said she added 23 new genres of books during her 15 years in business.
She said a customer said to her a few years ago, “This is the coolest place I’ve ever been to.”
“It’s probably the best compliment I’ve ever received,” said Norton, adding that The Bookie Joint has always stood for equality and inclusion, even now when business runs out.
Norton said the store could stay open beyond Halloween to allow as many books to get out the door as possible. Norton said it will continue to sell some of its more expensive books online.
But The Bookie Joint will soon close again and not open again.
“I robbed Peter to pay Paul so long,” Norton said. “And there is no more Paul.”