March 26 2009 12:00 AM

Make books, not war: Eastside bookstore blends literacy and community service


First of a seven-part series on businesses that are members of Capital Area Local First. For membership information, see www.capitalarealocalfirst.com.

Everybody Reads’ spirit of inclusiveness goes way further than the first word in the store’s name.

If you take just a few minutes to explore the store, you’d find bookshelves stocked with some of the most contemporary works on social justice, history, literature, religion, cooking and on and on. Naomi Klein’s newest book shares a table with Forbes magazine; a few rows away is a shelf displaying cutting-edge vegan and vegetarian cookbooks; and up the aisle a blue yard sign with the word “Peace” in big, bold letters. The clerks are friendly and helpful. Patrons curl up in chairs throughout the store browsing through books.

For owner and founder Scott Harris, this is just the way it was meant to be.

The store opened in May 2006, and was born out of a dream Harris shared with his now deceased wife — a family tragedy that gave Harris a reason to open the store.

Harris was formerly employed in the car insurance industry, but he gave it up because he couldn’t justify the way insurance was being priced. So he took a job as a substitute teacher, which in a sense gave him opportunity to see the light about opening the bookstore.

On the second day of a two-day assignment as a sub, one of his student’s parents passed away. Harris recommended he go to Ele’s Place, which offers support to those in mourning.

“At the moment, it seemed right, but I became nervous about overstepping my boundary as a sub,” he says.

He decided to speak to a guidance counselor about his recommendation to the student, but was shocked to learn that the counselor had never heard of Ele’s Place.

It was then he decided Lansing needed a place where anyone could come, feel welcome and find the resources they needed — whether it’s a damning look at former Vice President Dick Cheney, a tour guide of “weird” Michigan or information about services like Ele’s Place.

On the bookstore’s Web site, its mission is stated: “To empower the underrepresented individual and families in the tri-county area through a comprehensive community bookstore and neighborhood resource center.”

On a recent day, Miranda Hartman, artistic director of the All-of-Us-Express Children’s Theater, was browsing through the magazine selection — a part of the store that Harris is especially proud of.

“I’ve found magazines here that I didn’t even know existed,” she said.

But it wasn’t the magazine selection that drew Hartman to the store; it was the large children’s section that she enjoys for her 9-year-old son. She also enjoys that she can find books at Everybody Reads that might not be sold at some of the larger chain bookstores in the area.

You can find books that serve some of the more underrepresented individuals, including those in the lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender community, those from different cultures, faiths and non-traditional families, the physically and emotionally disabled and those from adoptive families. Everybody Reads carries books on all those individuals and more.

“It’s reassuring when people are there who can empathize,” Harris says. “They go into other bookstores and they don’t see their story so they think their face is not appealing in books, but I choose to have books in this store that tell their story.”

In addition to books, magazines and newspapers, the store carries progressive bumper stickers — which are peppered on shelves throughout the store, some with tongue firmly in cheek, like the “Treehugging dirt worshiper” sticker near the religion section — T-shirts, buttons, greeting cards and a U.S. Postal service depot.

There’s also a book exchange program, which allows people who may not be able to afford a new book to take a slightly used one at no charge. The exchange is funded entirely through donations.

“Some people take only one book at a time, some people take as many as 15, but somehow we find an equilibrium and always have books in the section,” Harris says.

Although the store has yet to break even — and with the sick economy further hindering sales — Harris says there are many regular customers. And, he’s excited for the future, looking forward to helping the community with his store’s blend of literature, non-fiction, information and inclusiveness.

“No one should have to feel conspicuous. At the store, we embrace our similarities, but also celebrate our differences,” he said.

Everybody Reads Books & Stuff

2019 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing 11 a.m. - 7 p.m. Monday-Saturday 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. Sunday (517) 446-9900 www.becauseeverbodyreads.com