TRAVERSE CITY — A beloved downtown retailer is writing its last chapter.
After 58 years of bookselling, Horizon Books is closing its doors.
“For all that time we’ve tried to do one thing,” said Amy Reynolds, who owns the store with her husband, Vic Herman. “And that’s be the best bookstore we could possibly be. This was a very hard decision, but it’s time.”
Horizon Books was founded in 1961, and over the years the company has operated bookstores in Traverse City, Petoskey, Beulah and Cadillac. The Beulah store closed in the 1980s, the Petoskey store closed in 2017 and for the time being, the Cadillac store will remain open, Reynolds said.
But the flagship store has been on Front Street for most of those five decades, first in a narrow space near the old Empire Bank, and then in the current 22,000 square-foot, three-level location which took over the once-vacant J.C. Penney’s department store building in 1993.
Academics and remedial readers, school kids and retirees, political candidates and marchers with Veterans for Peace, everyone was welcome.
“The bookstore was founded on not making judgments on what you read and we strive to have in stock what people want,” Reynolds said. “Every four years we’re accused of either being too liberal or being too conservative but if you look on the front tables and count the books, you’re going to see we’re pretty even.”
New York Times bestselling authors are often shelved next to books by local writers; the click of mahjongg tiles and the keys of a community piano harmonize in the lower level; and one table might host a book club, another a chess club, and a third, if it’s Thursday morning at 7:15, the local chapter of Toastmasters.
The internationally popular pop trio, The Accidentals, played their first gig here. So did Billy Strings, who last year was called a “prodigy” by Rolling Stone.
Horizon is where you can still find signed copies of books by Grayling native and prodigious author Jim Harrison, who died in 2016; and have a chance encounter with Lynne Rae Perkins, who lives in Leelanau County and won the Newberry Medal in 2006.
It’s where Marla Van Hook holds sway at the cash register, recommending books, rattling off movie reviews for what’s showing next door at the State Theatre, and calling local writers to tell them their book just got noticed by the New York Times Book Review.
“Talking about books, that’s my superpower,” Van Hook said. “Communities don’t realize what they lose when they lose a bookstore. It’s a meeting place. It’s a home.”
She’s worked alongside Reynolds and Herman and the store’s 20 additional full and part-time employees for 19 years.
“This was my first job out of college,” Reynolds said. “This sounds funny in these ‘Me Too’ times, but I fell in love with my boss. And we’ve been married for 28 years.”
That boss was Vic Herman, 90, who’s been retired from daily management of the store for several years, but spoke with pride about what he and Reynolds had built.
“Book people are just so enjoyable to be around,” he said. “And I’m very saddened to have to quit doing this. I never got into it for the money, I got into it because I loved it. Our sales are down, but we could survive financially. We’re just getting to a point in our lives where we want to do some other things.”
Herman started the business with his first wife, Nancy Herman, who died in 1979. Four of his five children and his grandson, Coleman Ankerson, have worked in the store.
Pam Herman is the store’s buyer, and worked as a branch manager, since 1969.
Retirement will give Herman and Reynolds the opportunity to spend more time together, Herman said, and do more traveling.
The couple own the building, don’t plan to list it for sale, but hope that something “culturally oriented,” goes into the space, and not another clothing store or restaurant, Herman said.
They are not in a big hurry to close, but plan to be out of the book business sometime in 2020, and perhaps as soon as 3 to 6 months, Reynolds said. Herman added that if someone, or some group of people, had a viable plan to keep the space a bookstore, the couple would be open to those discussions.