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40 years of literature and love at Oak Park bookstore

If you’re looking for a calm, quiet place to get lost in a good story, there’s nothing quite like a local bookstore. But with the rise of big box stores and online retail, indie shops have faced stiff competition. None of that seems to have deterred the owners of the Book Beat in Oak Park, though. The store, tucked into an unassuming corner of a strip mall, has been thriving for 40 years now.

Cary Loren and Colleen Kammer have been keeping it local at the Book Beat since 1982. They opened the store together in the same location, taking over a space that used to belong to a maternity clothing shop. The small–but mighty–shop on Greenfield Road has grown over the years despite tough odds, and will celebrate 40 years in the book business with a celebration this coming Sunday, August 28, 2022.

When the Book Beat first opened as an independent bookstore in 1982, several national bookstore chains were taking off across the United States.

“Well, you know, everything is pressure coming from all sides when you own a business. Right now, Amazon's the major pressure, I would say. But back then, the chain stores, you know Barnes Noble and Borders, were very close by,” Loren said.

Just two years after they opened their doors, the Ann Arbor based Borders opened a location just a few miles away. Since then, Cary Loren and Colleen Kammer have had to work hard to stay afloat as little fish in a pond full of big book retailers. Loren and Kammer 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 through. All these things, especially children's books, is why we're here today.”

Eventually, the couple would see their little store outlive some of the big book chains. Borders went bankrupt in 2011.

In 2020, Cary Loren and Colleen Kammer were handed yet another challenge when they were forced to close their store due to COVID-19 restrictions. With most of the sales at the Book Beat coming from in-person shopping, Loren and Kammer had to find other ways to turn a profit. After speaking with Oak Park Mayor Marian Mclellan, the store was given the green light to offer curbside service to customers seeking a safe book-buying experience.

Now, more than two years into the pandemic, the Book Beat is still going strong as a fixture in the community. Since their store was able to re-open, Loren and Kammer have seen a greater demand for new genres that they didn’t offer pre-pandemic, like romance–often fueled by recommendations readers find on TikTok.

In the course of 40 years, the owners of the Book Beat have always had a front row seat to the changing tastes of readers. And in times of turmoil–like the pandemic–they’ve noticed distinct shifts.

Tarot cards and reading tarot and certain things have come back, and metaphysical books are having a moment since the pandemic. And we've always had sections like that, too, but we've noticed that kind of, you know, a little mini boom in that field,” Loren said.

40 years later, the Book Beat remains a special place for book lovers to come together in Oak Park, Michigan. To Cary Loren and Colleen Kammer, community is what it’s all about.

I think we're 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 that are still our customers. If you give people good books, they trust you. I think they come back.”

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Anna joined Stateside as an assistant producer in August 2021. She is a recent graduate of Michigan State University's School of Journalism and previously worked for The State News as an intern and student government reporter.
April Van Buren is a producer for Stateside. She produces interviews for air as well as web and social media content for the show.
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