On Black Friday, a used bookstore tries to change a Flint neighborhood

Nov 27, 2015

Malls and big box stores are busy today with holiday shoppers.

It's a different kind of Black Friday feel at Totem books in Flint, Michigan. The former liqour store-turned-used bookstore is about more than sales. It's about changing a neighborhood.
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A steady stream of customers filed into Totem books in Flint on Black Friday.  The bookstore was holding a ‘soft’ open on one of the busiest shopping days of the year.  

That may seem to be an unconventional idea. But that’s not the only unconventional thing you’ll noticed about Totem books. 

The Flint entrepreneur behind it is actually exchanging booze for books in hopes of changing a neighborhood.

Totem books owner Dean Yeotis talks with customers on opening day, Black Friday 2015
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Owner Dean Yeotis says he decided to buy an old party store and turn it into a used book store because he wanted to make a change in the neighborhood.   He calls it “addition by subtraction.”

“I have nothing against party stores,” says Yeotis, who is also a prominent local attorney, “This was a particularly bad party store.  It was attracting not only crime, but it was depressing the entire neighborhood.”

Yeotis says he believes in the “transformative power of a good book” to plant a seed and is already bearing fruit in the neighborhood.  He says other groups are renovating other buildings in the neighborhood. 

Totem books is envisioned as being more than just a store with a few dusty old books.   

Yeotis wants it to become a hub for people in the neighborhood.  A place where people can meet, read a good book and listen to music. 

“We can be a place where people can come together in a community gathering space and exchange ideas and think of ways to move ourselves forward.  And that’s what this is all about,” says Yeotis. 

Flint has many other party stores with negative reputations. 

Yeotis says used book stores may not be the answer in those neighborhoods.   He says that will be up to other entrepreneurs.