TRAVERSE CITY — Between 15,000 and 20,000? More than 25,000?
Jann Norton isn’t sure exactly how many used books are on the shelves in the Bookie Joint. She is sure there are a lot of tomes at 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 get it to flow the way I wanted it to flow.”
Regardless of exactly how many books, stickers and cards are packed into the store at 124 S. Union St., Norton has a story for about every single book, just as she does with the foreign currency under glass on the counter top. Norton said owning a book store is a little bit like being a bartender and she has heard so many stories from so many customers, both from near and far.
But the store she has owned and operated by herself for the last 15 years is telling Norton a different story. It’s a story she can’t ignore.
“It is with great sadness that ... I am closing The Bookie Joint by October 31, 2021,” Norton posted on Facebook. “I want everyone to know how much I have appreciated your business and your loyalty. It’s been an honor and pleasure to serve all of you. Many of you have become an important part of my day. Thank you.”
Norton — who still writes out a ticket for sales on a pad next to a calculator said doesn’t often use — said she made two sales for $12, with a tax of 66 cents on Aug. 31.
So after not having a vacation for 15 years and staying open seven days a week during the summer since she bought The Bookie Joint on June 20, 2006, Norton announced a going out of business sale that started Sept. 27.
“All of this has reaffirmed that I didn’t have a choice in the matter, ‘I need to do this,’” said Norton, who knows she is just one small business owner who has made the same decision over the last over the last 18 months. “’You worked your butt off and you loved the place.”
“My heart has caught up with my brain. It doesn’t mean I’m not doing the right thing.”
It doesn’t mean making the decision to close The Bookie Joint after decades in business doesn’t hurt. The Bookie Joint was a fixture at the Arcade Building on Front Street before it relocated to Union Street.
“I’ve cried a million tears and customers are still coming in crying,” Norton said. “So many people have become such a big part of my day and I thank them for that.”
A lot of customers and even fellow bookstore owners are thanking Norton.
Paul Stebleton sold books under the name “Book-o-Rama,” subletting space at the back of the Bookie Joint for 20 years before opening Landmark Books at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons 8 years ago.
“It was sad to hear that she was going to close,” Stebleton said. “I feel really bad for Jann, but it makes (economic) sense.”
Norton can thank fate or fortune for her buying the store.
Norton grew up in Ann Arbor and moved to Traverse City “on Halloween night 1983,” partially on the recommendation of a doctor to find less-humid air after a series of lung-related illnesses and partially to follow her now ex-husband in a failed business venture.
After 10 years in Oregon and another 1½ in Ann Arbor, Norton returned to her adopted home to stay on New Year’s Eve, 1996. She was a stay-at-home mom with three boys and also worked in accounting at a pair of local companies.
Norton said she thought about owning a little 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 had several heavy bags of books to trade in for store credit at The Bookie Joint the Thursday before Memorial Weekend and circled downtown four times, unsuccessfully looking for a spot to park close to the store.
She returned Friday morning, found a close parking spot, dropped off her books and shopped for more for almost an hour. Norton said Shelly Barnes, who co-owned the store with her husband, Bob Hicks, recognized her and asked what she was up to and what she planned on doing.
“I said, ‘I would like to buy a small business in downtown Traverse City,’” Norton recalled. “She said, ‘Oh, my gosh. We just made the decision last night to sell.’”
Norton said she and Barnes started jumping up and down. Norton said Stebleton was properly given first choice on The Bookie Joint, turned it down and Norton quickly accepted.
“We agreed on a price, I gave them some free labor to get acclimated in the business and I took over on June 20,” Norton said.
As it turned out, Barnes was volunteering instead of working the day she intended to come into The Bookie Joint, when she ended up driving home with her bags of book because she couldn’t find a close parking spot.
“If I would have come in on Thursday, I wouldn’t have known about it,” Norton said.
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 one customer a number of years ago told her, “This is the coolest store I’ve ever been in.”
“It’s probably the best compliment I ever received,” Norton said, adding that The Bookie Joint always stood for equality and inclusion, even now as the business comes to a conclusion.
Norton said the store may stay open past Halloween so as many books as possible go out the door. Norton said she will also continue to sell some of her more expensive books online.
But The Bookie Joint will close one more time soon and won’t reopen.
“I robbed Peter to pay Paul for so long,” Norton said. “And there’s no more Paul.”