Writing Detroit’s Next Chapter

Date: 8 Feb 2024 | posted in: Building Local Power, Detroit | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail
A vibrant independent bookstore symbolizes a shared community enthusiasm for learning, discovery, heritage, and progress. Source Booksellers, nestled in Detroit, has long been a reliable hub for non-fiction literature. Janet W. Jones established the store in 1989 and nurtured her daughter, Alyson Jones Turner, amidst its shelves. Alyson recounts the origin of Source Booksellers and its vital significance in fostering self-awareness, meaningful dialogue, and shared history within the community. Alyson elaborates on how local self-reliance, to her, embodies a robust support network among individuals, businesses, and organizations—a spirit of cooperation rather than competition.
Reggie Rucker: Hello and welcome back, back again to a brand new episode and season of Building Local Power. I’m your co-host, Reggie Rucker. Delighted to be joined once again by my favorite co-host, and that’s not just because she’s my only co-host, Luke Gannon. What’s up, Luke?
Luke Gannon: Hey, Reggie. Great to be back. Back again. Wow. Rolls off the tongue from my middle school Eminem days. I see what you’re doing, Reggie.
(singing)
Reggie Rucker: Mr. Marshall Mathers himself, because as many of you probably know, Eminem represents Detroit just about as hard as anyone. So maybe you know a little bit about Detroit because of what you saw in the movie 8 Mile that you starred in, or maybe the Detroit Lions or Pistons or Tigers or Red Wings have given you a window into the city, or maybe it’s Motown or it’s the Motor City mantra you’re familiar with, or maybe you live there. Shout out to our Detroit listeners.
In any case, what we’re going to do over the next several episodes and seasons is explore how to build local power from the experiences of people who are doing just that on the ground, starting in Detroit. These are the people who are proving what’s possible when the community comes together to shape its future. We’ll talk to community leaders, advocates, activists, entrepreneurs and elected officials, all who have powerful stories about the drive to write Detroit’s next chapter. We think these stories will be illuminating in their own right, but hope they’ll also inspire you on your journey to build local power wherever you’re listening from. So with that said, Luke, what do we have going on for this episode?
Luke Gannon: In this episode, we venture to Midtown Detroit, home to Source Booksellers, a local bookstore and community author event space that has had its doors open since 1989. Alyson Jones Turner shares her story, highlighting how Source Booksellers has woven a robust community fabric and network in Detroit.
Alyson Jones Tu…: I’m Alyson Jones Turner, Source Booksellers here in Detroit, Michigan. We’re a unique niche of non-fiction books. This is a family-owned business. My mother is the founder of Source Booksellers, Janet W. Jones, and she started this book business very interested in non-fiction books and dedicated to the community here in Detroit.
Luke Gannon: For nearly a century, Alyson’s family has called Detroit home, cultivating a deep appreciation for education and fostering a strong connection to the community over the years.
Alyson Jones Tu…: I think we should start with my grandmother who came to Detroit in the early ’30s, I’ll say, and she later became a librarian. So our love for books probably started with her. My mother and I are both teachers. She’s retired. She was in the Detroit Public School system for 41 years, and after that started this business and I taught for more than a decade or so in the elementary classroom. So I guess that keeps us close to the book and also to the community.
So many of the years I was in the classroom and then after and on the weekends I was working with and working at the bookstore. Definitely around COVID, I decided we had to get online. We were never online before. And so as a point of survival at that point, we put our books online and I sort of made a home here doing co-running with my mom at that point. I don’t remember myself from, I guess my early days not being a part of the bookstore, not getting books, bringing people up, doing all of the things, but right now I do events and the online and ordering and things like that.
Luke Gannon: Alyson and Source Booksellers grew up together. Alyson remembers when her bookstore was a vendor in an old jazz and blues bar.
Alyson Jones Tu…: Our bookstore started, I guess today, it may be called a popup, but it really wasn’t. There were authors in town and we would go and support with books or there would be events where there are vendors, and then we would be a book vendor. That happened for the first few years of the business.
Around 2002, we moved into a collective of women businesses and we were the book business. So at that point we had a brick and mortar. We could invite people in, have events and expand our book collections into our category, health and wellbeing, history and culture by and about women. All of these categories grew out of having that space. So we were there for about 10 years and then we crossed the street literally, and we had customers help us bring our books across the street. And we are still on Cass Avenue today in our own brick and mortar, which we expanded a year and a half ago. It’s been about 20-some years just on this block and 33 and a half or 34 years in book selling.
Luke Gannon: Alyson and her mother’s shared passion for books and dedication to learning have left a lasting impact on the Detroit community. They fostered a reciprocal relationship in the Midtown neighborhood, providing books, events, conversations, and education, and in turn receiving steadfast support from the community.
Alyson Jones Tu…: Well, I think one of our passions is with our non-fiction that we really believe that it’s important for people to know about history, know things, know about the world, and also whether it’s through memoir or through history or any other way to get to self-knowledge.
Luke Gannon: The people of Detroit have attained the self-knowledge Alyson refers to, thanks to their local booksellers and librarians who have introduced them to literature that broadens their perspectives.
Alyson Jones Tu…: There’s a community member in town that remembers my grandmother finding particular books for him, like particular books she felt that he would read. And so in his later years, he totally is grateful and remembers that about her.
I think what I remember is going to hear authors with my mother, my sister, and being in awed by them and getting… Sort of like if you’re going to a concert and you hear a concert and you get the album and you want it signed. So I do remember that, and I’m really grateful that we’re able to offer that to families today.
Luke Gannon: Source Booksellers has ingrained itself deeply within the community. When the bookshop relocated, neighbors, residents, customers, and supporters united to assist in walking armfuls of books across the street to the new location. Even customers from 30 years ago still make visits to the shop today. Through their event hosting, they’ve established a space where authors and locals can come together and connect.
Alyson Jones Tu…: Hanif Abdurraqib, the podcast called the Object Of Sound, and one of his books, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us. It was one of our really good selling book. He wrote a book, a tribute to a tribe called Quest, and in that it had a Detroit connection with J Dilla, with James Yancey. And so he came to our bookstore and spoke about the book and was full of people that knew of him, but also we’ve done a lot around J Dilla.
(singing)
We had Dilla Time, we had Dan Charnas here in the city for that. So that was one time when it was just like everybody was just loving everything, that the people were so grateful that they could meet him and see him, and that his content was something that they were looking for, looking to eat up.
Luke Gannon: Source Booksellers provides a platform for authors and community members to engage in discussions about how our history shapes our present. The topics explored range from segregation to fostering harmony with the natural world.
Alyson Jones Tu…: In the past, we’ve had conversations that means that you don’t have to have a book. We can just have a topic and everyone can come talk about it. Just yesterday, we had an author from the city that was looking for a venue to celebrate her book, and we were open to and excited about that. We go out into the community. We have been the bookseller for the Detroit Bioneers for all of the years, and sometimes they just buy calendars and books about birds, but it doesn’t matter. There’s an author series also in town that we have been a partner of. And to our delight, we are one and a half blocks to the main Detroit library. So if they need us to run some books up there for their authors, then it really works because they’re a public entity. The authors want their books sold, but it’s their job to get the public to see the author. And so we’ve been able to partner in that way. And the Arab American Museum, we do the same kind of thing. Pull up with the books.
Luke Gannon: Source Bookseller’s reliance on its neighborhood network of support has been invaluable, but like any business, it has also faced some obstacles.
Alyson Jones Tu…: One obstacle is advertising or getting our word out. That has been a challenge. We’ve worked really, really hard to get bigger events, and that sort of comes with having to draw your audience and being able to draw an audience. And it’s so easy, I think, for a ticket master to draw the tickets and the things that they need, but getting… The newspapers, for example, stopped doing book reviews. So we’re relying on Oprah to pick a book or the Fiddler’s Moon or something to pick a book. And it is very hard to get buzz for particular books that we may be interested in our history and culture area. We have to sort of create the buzz. It makes us very nervous when we commit to having something big and there isn’t really a media support.
Luke Gannon: Alyson has resorted to utilizing Source Bookseller’s internal internal communication strategies such as reaching out to various groups and providing event discounts, initiating campaigns on their social media platforms, and leveraging the presence of the author to garner attention. Promoting on bigger platforms is simply unrealistic for many small businesses.
Alyson Jones Tu…: We don’t want to compete with a general bookstore. We can’t hold that much stock. We don’t have that much walker. And we do a lot of work gaining interest in history and culture in Detroit and Michigan authors. We did a little NPR promotion, but we can’t do that always. It’s definitely out of budget for every season.
Luke Gannon: Alyson elaborates on how local self-reliance to her embodies a robust support network among individuals, businesses, and organizations, a spirit of cooperation rather than competition.
Alyson Jones Tu…: A locally self-reliant community, I’m thinking about that may mean that us being here and serving our community. We’re also often relying on the cheese monger up the street to pour our wine at an event or the little market across the street so we could get water for our authors. And these are all things that we can walk to, but we also have community help that’s not as close, but just as important. There are organizations, Free Black Women’s Library of Detroit that would help us promote events or give us ideas because we don’t have all the ideas, but to give us some ideas that we can run with or put a asking for.
People can come in and customers can ask us for books that they want. Maybe they don’t want to get it off Amazon, maybe they can walk back to us and pick it up. We’ll order it for them and we’ll bring it in and we’ll call them and we won’t be disappointed if they don’t want it. We’ll find something to do with it, but usually the commitment is on both sides. If you order it for me, I’ll come get it. And so there are even [inaudible 00:14:15] far from our niche, but very important to our customer, and we’ve been able to get that for them.
Luke Gannon: In contrast to giants like Barnes & Noble and Amazon, Source Booksellers prioritizes forging close-knit customer relationships. Alyson takes the time to understand her customers’ reading preferences, providing personalized recommendations to meet their specific needs. This commitment to relationship building goes beyond mere book sales fostering communities where individuals come together to discuss this shared history and cultivate connections that last a lifetime.
Alyson Jones Tu…: I think that if you would like to read about Detroit that you should pick up Alice Randall, a native Detroiter’s Black Bottom Saints. And you can see all of the people that came through Black Bottom Detroit and also that we celebrate today, but we have our own people in Detroit that are making contributions just like they did.
Luke Gannon: We cannot thank Alyson Turner enough for being on the show today. Next time you’re in Detroit, or if you’re in Detroit already, go say hello to Alyson and grab Black Bottom Saints or another non-fiction book of your choice. Thank you so much, Alyson.
Reggie Rucker: Such a great story, Luke. Thanks for bringing that to us. As always, such a great job. I swear, any episode where you get to reference J Dilla, that’s a good episode. And so thank you Alyson again for sharing your story with us and giving us that slice of life, that slice of Detroit we don’t always get to see. And thanks to you, our listeners, for tuning in.
We’ll be back again in two weeks with another story out of Detroit. But in the meantime, check out the show notes from today’s episode to dive deeper into what we discussed today. And as always, you can visit ilsr.org for more on our work to fight corporate control and build local power, or send us an email to buildinglocalpower@ilsr.org. Let us know what’s on your mind.
This show is produced by Luke Gannon and me, Reggie Rucker. The podcast is edited by Luke Gannon and Tea Noelle. The music for this season is also composed by Tea Noelle. Thank you so much for listening to Building Local Power.

 

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Music Credit: Mattéa Overstreet

Photo Credit: Em McPhie, ILSR’s Digital Communications Manager

Podcast produced by Reggie Rucker and Luke Gannon

Podcast edited by Luke Gannon and Mattéa Overstreet

Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.

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Luke Gannon is the Research and Communications Associate for the Independent Business team.

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