Karl Pohrt, the owner of Shaman Drum, the highly-renowned 29-year-old bookstore located on the edge of the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor that specialized in scholarly works, announced on the store Web site Tuesday afternoon that “on the advice of [his] accountant and business manager,” he is closing his store June 30. Pohrt intends to continue running the nonprofit center for the literary arts, the Great Lakes Literary Center, that he founded more than a year ago.
Several months ago, the Ann Arbor community rallied to save Shaman Drum from closing, after Pohrt wrote “An Open Letter from a Distressed Bookseller,”advising store patrons that the store might close after experiencing plummeting sales in textbooks in the past year, although trade book sales had risen 20%.
Reached at his home Tuesday evening, Pohrt described a perfect storm of factors leading to his decision to close the store that meant “the longer [he] stays, the more money [he’ll] lose.” He ascribed his store’s demise to the cumulative impact of the collapse of the U.S. economy this past fall, along with the high rate of unemployment in Michigan, the lack of money allocated to education in the state, the popularity of Kindle and Sony readers among his core group of customers (students and humanities professors), and, finally, the University of Michigan itself, which is now requiring ISBNs of textbooks to be posted by professors a month before classes began. “That drove sales to online stores,” Pohrt explained, as much of his store’s business was in textbook sales. “There’s collatoral damage to locally-owned bookshops.”
“All these things add up to making it extremely difficult to have a sustainable business,” he said, “But I have an immense sense of gratitude. I’ve been in business 29 years, and 28 of them were good. I had a long run and I did the best I could.”