David’s Books: Father of Bookstores

Each bookstore has its unique vision and unique stock, an independent window on the world of books. Ann Arbor had one unique bookshop that not only had its own vision but also was the incubator of no less than three other shops, two of which are still with us today.

David’s Used Books was started by David Kozubei (1932 – 2006) in 1978. He had originally come over from England in 1968 to work at and perhaps “radicalize” Centicore Books, but was pulled in to work with the Borders brothers on their new venture. The partnership didn’t work out, and he left to create a short-lived new bookstore at 529 E. Liberty in 1974, around where School Kids Records was, west of the Michigan Theater. A Guinness World Record for the longest continuous games of 5-minute chess, at 96 hours, was set in its front window. Unfortunately, the store lasted only 2 1/2 years and closed in early 1976.

But Kozubei was not done. After a few years selling books in the corner of a plant shop on Ashley, he rebounded with the 2nd-floor shop at the corner of Liberty and State, perched over the two busy streets and full of both books and magazines, with a notable section of chess books. It remained there for the next 20 plus years, and thanks to it we have the great and famous mural by Richard Wolk along Liberty Street.

During the years he ran the two shops, a number of people who worked for Kozubei split off and continued in the book business. Jay Platt worked for Kozubei’s new bookstore and, with an additional stint at Ned’s Textbooks in Ypsilanti under his belt, opened West Side Books in 1975. Bill Gilmore, who opened Dawn Treader around the same time, worked there too. Paul Spader, who opened Books in General in the early 90s, was also an alumnus and specialized in technical books on the second floor on State street, near Ashley’s Pub.  Other alums continued as workers in other shops or selling books by internet or mail well into the 2000s.

We don’t know if Kozubei intended to be such an incubator. He was not keen on employees running their own side book businesses, and fired at least one over it. But the 70s and 80s were great times to open a bookshop, and it seems something else was going on in both iterations of David’s Books. No other shop in Ann Arbor history was such a center of new ventures by its former staff, not even the nearly century-old Wahr’s on State Street.  Perhaps Kozubei’s love and knowledge of books, honed on Charing Cross Road in London before his transatlantic adventure, came across to those who worked with him. He was determined to create a shop of his own style, and those who left his hire and went on to start other shops certainly did the same.

–Gene Alloway
Owner of Motte & Bailey Booksellers
212 N. Fourth Ave.

Featured in March 2017 newsletter