Cultivating a community
Bookseller takes citizenship seriously
By Melissa Runstrom / Daily Staff Writer
vey year, on the first day of
glasses, the workers dress in
-_drag in honor of a Shaman
Dru m employee who died from AIDS
(and in his youth had a penchant for
dressing in drag). The current staff-
ers at the bookshop dress up to dish
out information about safe sex and
raise AIDS awareness. "It is a way
of remembering this man and also
trying to prevent anybody from get-
ting a sexually transmitted disease,"
Karl Pohrt, Shaman Drum's owner
and founder said quietly.
For Pohrt, his bookshop has never
been about making money, but rath-
er about making Ann Arbor into a
smarter, more interesting place. "I
think that is very important ... to
take the idea of citizenship very seri-
ously. I think partly that is colored by
having grown up in Flint, and seeing
what happened when the auto indus-
try collapsed ... wherever you live
you should work in part of the com-
munity and defend the community."
As the current president of the Ann
Arbor Street Art Fair, former presi-
dent of the State Street Area Asso-
ciation, and member of the board of
directors for the American Booksell-
ers Association for eight years, he is
no stranger to community involve-
ment. The owner is also proud of the
time spent organizing the fledgling
Ann Arbor Book Festival and the
Ann Arbor Reads program. He even
works with the Washtenaw Living
Economy Network Alliance, and
the store helps fund the University
Library Student Book Collection
Contest. Right now, he is actively
involved in a program called World
Reads, where sellers promote books
in translation as a way to facilitate
knowledge and understanding across
language and geographical bound-
aries. He is constantly on the go
with projects many would consider
peripheral to running the bookshop.
It's clear that he feels being a shop
owner in Ann Arbor imparts a cer-
During the last 25 years, Pohrt has
watched his bookshop expand from a
single room upstairs on State Street to
the two-story staple of the Ann Arbor
literary community. Shortly after open-
ing his doors some professors visited
the new shop and started ordering their
textbooks through him, convinced
the store wouldn't make it any other
way. This practice has given the store
stability and allowed Pohrt to use the
bookshop to improve the neighborhood
and facilitate a community of smart,
informed readers. "A really first-rate
browsing store in the humanities ...
wouldn't be possible without the text-
books," Pohrt explained.
He noted that textbook sales are
changing - fewer books are being
purchased. This reaction from students
shouldn't be ignored, he said, express-
ing interest in forming an alliance with
the student book exchange.
With competition from large
chains such as Borders, and now
internet vendors such as Amazon.
com, Pohrt is still convinced his
store brings something those others
can't. "If you take a walk through
the first floor of the shop, you'll see
books faced out there that you don't
see faced out in any other bookshop
in the United States. It is an eclectic
collection, but I think a really inter-
Pohrt also said that a bookshop
such as his was, "pretty ghettoized
in terms of American culture, (and)
the American -entertainment indus-
try in general." He gives back to the
city while realizing that his own
store relies on the city's commit-
ment to serious literature. "A store
like this will rise or fall in terms of
whether or not the community sup-
ports it and understands what we
are trying to do."
"We are a bookshop with a point
of view - we are not a general
interest bookshop. The point of
view is scholarly and academic.
Maybe the politics are somewhat
left of center ... but everybody's
welcome. It is not like this is exclu-
sive to a certain demographic,"
Pohrt explained. The shop carries
35 categories of books, and all are
hand-picked with certain scruples
in mind, "There are two ways to do
retail: to meet the needs of the com-
munity and to help shape the needs
of the community. And we are try-
ing to do a little (of the latter). (We
want to say that) it is worth your
time to read this book."
It took Pohrt a while to realize
that it wasn't enough to be passionate
about books and expect a bookstore
to succeed. With all of the compe-
tition from other forms of media, it
is important to remember the other
aspect of running a successful ven-
ture. The shop owner did admit that
it took him a while "not be contemp-
tuous of (those) who know how to
manipulate money (or) how to be
have some LSA classes on North Campus. In addition to reducing travel
time for those who reside there, LSA students from Central would get the
opportunity to experience what North Campus has to offer.
"One of the reasons they don't know about Pierpont and the Duderstadt
Center is because they don't have any classes up (on North Campus),"
Fletcher says. "Everyone feels like the Diag is their community. Up here,
it's too fragmented."
ith this "if you build it, they will come" mantra
in place, North Campus seems to have discov-
ered its cornerstone, thanks in part to a famous
playwright and University alum. The Walgreen
Drama Center is a tremendous coup for North
Campus. The center, which will prominently fea-
ture the Arthur Miller Theatre - a tribute to the
late playwright and University alum - was first conceptualized in 1997 by
University president Lee Bollinger. When Miller agreed to lend his name to
the theater, the idea took off.
Now, the 97,500 square-foot complex is scheduled for completion in Jan-
uary 2007. Originally slated to be situated near the Power Center on Cen-
tral Campus, decisions to move the Theater & Drama and Music Theater
departments led to its current location next to Pierpont Commons.
It's a big upgrade for North Campus. Currently, the largest auditorium
is the Chrysler Center, which seats just 230 people. The Walgreen Center
will feature an auditorium that seats 460, in addition to the Arthur Miller
Theater, which will accommodate 250 people.
University officials praise the building as being a great new academic and s
derful new enhancement" to the campus; Kelbaugh speaks excitedly about ho
that will bring people from Central Campus and beyond.'' Symposia, confereen
Arts plays are all possible now. The opening of the center will no doubt gener
will all benefit from the center.
One such area is Pierpont Commons, the student union of North Campus, nan
vice president of the University. Pierpont was originally intended to simply ser
evolved into a spacious epicenter for North Campus. Over the past few summe
"It was time," said Swanigan simply, when asked about the timing of the im
In 2004, student services offices were moved around and corridors were e
a one-stop shop for students. Last summer, the Chinese food chain Panda Ex
occupied by McDonalds - who opted out of their contract with the Univer
Since Pierpont seemingly serves as a hub for the entire campus, it answer
from places to eat on North Campus to concerns about lighting on the sidewal
initiative to make changes such as shelters at the bus stops and emergency phc
"We feel like we need to be involved with North Campus as an entire comm-
Karl Pohrt stands amongst a plethora of books at Shaman Drum.
good businesspeople. That's not
easy, and I have a lot of respect now
for people who can (do that)."
Pohrt loves running the store and
believes in the in its usefulness for
the community. He is not certain what
the future will bring for the shop after
he retires, but he has a few ideas. "I
would like the bookstore to outlive
my tenure. I've thought about offer-
ing it to my employees. I've thought
about turning it into a not-for-profit
and giving it to the community."
He said he really enjoys selecting
the books the shop sells. Despite the
uphill battle against the larger stores,
it is evident he believes in his store.
"Every day that I put the key into the
lock ....and it is open, I consider a suc-
cess. To be able to do a bookshop that
is this eclectic and idiosyncratic in
this community is a triumph ... that I
live in a community that supports this
(is great). When you go around the
United States ... it (has) become a rar-
ity. The community should be proud
to have places like (Shaman Drum).
the Ark and Michigan Theater ... all
those amenities in addition to the Uni-
versity that make the cultural life here
really vibrant and exciting and won-
The Weekend ist
Kouyate is a Senegalese harpist who plays a
21-string harp called a kora. Now based out of
Ypsilanti, Kouyate brings nearly 100 years of
West African musical tradition to the Ark. Doors
are at 7:30 p.m. for the 8 p.m. show. Tickets for
this all-ages concert are available online at www.
theark.org and cost $12.50.
History of hip hop panel
The University's Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs
office and FOKUS sponsor a panel with Jeff
Chang on the historical and cultural significance of
hip hop music. The lecture begins at 4 p.m. in the
Modern Languages Building. Admission is free.
The School of Music presents the Symphony
Band with guest conductor Steven D. Davis
performing Mozart. The performance begins
at 8 p.m. at Hill Auditorium and admission is
younger than 21, $8 everyone else and are
available at the door.
Detroit Observatory Tour
The Bentley Historical Library pres-
ents a tour of the newly renovated Detroit
Observatory. The observatory played an
integral role in bringing the University's
research department to prominence. Tours
begin at 1 p.m. Admission is free.
Harmonettes Spring Concert
The Harmonettes - an all-female vocal
group - present their spring concert. The
performance begins at 8 p.m. in the Michi-
gan Union Ballroom. Tickets are $6 for
students and $8 for adults. Black-tie attire
receives a dollar off admission.
The Detroit-based alt-country group comes to
the Ark. The quintet has opened for the likes of
Chicago powerhouse Wilco. Doors open at 7:30
p.m. for the 8 p.m. all ages-show. Tickets are $13.50
and are available online at www.theark.org.
The 1l-piece Ann Arbor based Nomo
come to the Blind Pig. The group draws its
influences from African polyrhythm and
American jazz. Doors for the 18 and up show
open at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $11 for students
The reggae artist Anthony B. comes to the
Blind Pig with special guest Soul Majestic, the
international reggae orchestra. Doors open at 9
p.m. for this 18 and up show. Tickets are $20
in advance and are available at www.blindpig-
VI US by A.I 41NILLU ,LA Ubtt L INU SI tVtS Ifl Iumy
TOP: Students lounge in the contemporary halls of the EECS building.
BOTTOM: Doug Kelbaugh stands in the architecture studios.
4B - The Michigan Daily - Thursday,'March 9, 2006
The Michigan Dail