If you’re looking for a calm, quiet place to lose yourself in a good story, there’s nothing like a local bookstore. But with the rise of big box stores and online retail, independent stores have faced fierce competition. However, none of this seems to have deterred owners of the Book Beat in Oak Park. The store, tucked away in an unassuming corner of a strip mall, has been thriving for 40 years now.
Cary Loren and Colleen Kammer have kept it local at Book Beat since 1982. They opened the store together in the same location, taking over space that once belonged to a maternity clothing store. The small but mighty store in Greenfield Road has grown over the years despite tough odds and will be celebrating 40 years in the book business with a celebration this Sunday 28th August 2022.
When the Book Beat opened as an independent bookstore in 1982, several national bookstore chains were taking off across the United States.
“Well, you know, everything is pressure from all sides when you own a business. Right now, Amazon is the main pressure, I would say. But back then, chain stores, you know Barnes Noble and Borders, were very close,” Loren said.
Just two years after opening their doors, the Ann-Arbor-born Borders opened a store a few miles away. Since then, Cary Loren and Colleen Kammer have had to work hard to stay afloat like little fish in a pond full of big book retailers. Loren and Kammer have kept their shop alive by specializing their selection of books.
“We specialized in art and photography, fiction, and then children’s books,” Kammer said. “That’s what got us out of it. All of these things, especially children’s books, are why we’re here today.
Eventually, the couple would see their small store outlast some of the big book chains. Borders went bankrupt in 2011.
In 2020, Cary Loren and Colleen Kammer faced another challenge when they were forced to close their store due to COVID-19 restrictions. With most Book Beat sales coming from in-person purchases, Loren and Kammer had to find other ways to make a profit. After speaking with Oak Park Mayor Marian Mclellan, the store was given the green light to offer curbside service to customers looking for a safe book shopping experience.
Now, more than two years into the pandemic, the Book Beat continues to make its way into the community. Since their store was able to reopen, Loren and Kammer have seen greater demand for new genres they didn’t offer before the pandemic, like romance, often fueled by recommendations readers find on TikTok.
Over the past 40 years, the owners of the Book Beat have always been at the forefront of keeping pace with changing reader tastes. And in times of turmoil, like the pandemic, they have noticed distinct changes.
“Tarot cards and tarot reading and some things have come back, and metaphysical books are having a while since the pandemic. And we’ve always had sections like that too, but we’ve noticed this kind of, you know, a little mini boom in that area,” Loren said.
40 years later, the Book Beat remains a favorite place for book lovers to gather in Oak Park, Michigan. For Cary Loren and Colleen Kammer, community is what it’s all about.
“I think we are connected to our customers. A lot of them, we know their names, we know what they like, I call them back,” Kammer said. “We have four generations or grandmothers with their great-grandchildren who are still our customers. If you give people good books, they trust you. I think they’re coming back.”