Books and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula are two of my favorite things. So when the two are combined, the experience is indelibly stamped on me. Longtime subscribers may remember our very first Bookstore Road Trip feature in March 2017 of Dana Welshans and Snowbound Books in Marquette. By March of 2017, I had been visiting Snowbound Books annually for many years, but for the first time had a vehicle through which to share with other book lovers one of my favorite bookstores.
So it was with a deep sense of gratitude for the Ann Arbor Book Society monthly newsletter that I walked into a small, out of the way bookstore in Copper Harbor on a recent trip and found yet another bookstore treasure to share with our readers and fellow book lovers.
For recent Michigan transplants and those who do not travel north of the bridge, Copper Harbor is an unincorporated community with a population of 71 on the northernmost tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, the ‘Upper Peninsula’s Upper Peninsula,’ and a nine-hour drive from Ann Arbor. With breathtaking views of Lake Superior, world-class mountain biking trails, and iconic scenic byways, Copper Harbor is a destination that should be on every Michigander’s bucket list. And a stop at Grandpa’s Barn is a must when you get there!
My husband and I arrived at Grandpa’s Barn under gray clouds threatening rain or snow and were immediately greeted at the door by the sweet smell of wood burning in a stove, and the warmth that comes with it. (I would later learn the deliciously fragrant scent was a mixture of sugar maple, birch, cedar, and oak, and that they burn whatever is on hand – a mix of wood from trees trimmed on the property and others that are brought from their house supply.) The sense that this bookstore was special, with its wood-burning stove by the front door, was immediate. It turns out one reason is that the bookstore WAS a barn.
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The owner of Grandpa’s Barn, Lloyd Wescoat, has been selling books since 1981 when she was running the Skytop Inn, a seasonal gift store on Brockway Mountain Drive. In 1985, she and her husband opened a bookstore in their little motel, the Brockway Inn, which they sold in 2000. At the time, they knew they wanted to open a bookstore, and opened Grandpa’s Barn in 2002. “This truly was my husband’s grandfather’s barn and artifacts from all periods of Copper Harbor, and Copper Country, history serve as a backdrop to our book selection.” The building itself and the eclectic collection of artifacts on display throughout the space make for a unique browsing experience, and even people not interested in books are sure to enjoy what can be found on the walls and shelves.
Lloyd lived in several places in her youth, from Virginia and West Virginia to North Carolina and Florida. But when she moved to Copper Harbor for a summer job in June of 1980, she never left! She and her husband have a second home in Laurium, about 45 minutes south of Copper Harbor, but Copper Harbor is their permanent year-round residence. The bookstore, however, is only open during tourist season, which runs from Mother’s Day Weekend through the third week in October. I was fascinated to learn that before Copper Harbor had a year-round water system installed, the town’s water supply would be turned on May 15th and turned off on October 15th, dates that correspond with the “good weather,” and therefore naturally, tourist season.
Lloyd’s 40 years of experience selling books in Copper Harbor is clear in the bookstore’s selection. “Our books represent the interests of those who come to the area to enjoy nature, history, the lake, and fresh air.” You’re unlikely to find the newest best sellers for sale at Grandpa’s Barn, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find many of your favorites on the shelves. “To grab a number, I’d say less than 10% of the books are new/popular titles. These books can be picked up anywhere along the way to Copper Harbor. I’m more interested in finding books that people have read and loved and want their friends and family to read. Or books that reflect our area – could be a classic, a local history, a field guide, or a children’s book that features bears!” It’s not surprising then, that Grandpa’s Barn’s best-sellers are local and regional titles, from field guides and fiction to children’s books.
As a very small, working-class community, the full-time residents of Copper Harbor don’t have much time for anything other than work, so Lloyd’s business is supported mainly through summer residents and others who choose Copper Harbor for a vacation destination. “What is most gratifying is the repeat business I get from families who make a visit to Grandpa’s Barn part of their Copper Harbor experience. I love reconnecting with them and catching up after a year.”
Having chosen to build her life in such a remote, rugged, and isolated place, it makes sense that Lloyd is drawn to books in which the characters share similar experiences. She calls them ‘End of the Road’ books. “I have chosen to live at the end of the road in Copper Harbor and it makes me curious about how other remote communities fare over time, especially when populations dwindle and children leave (often because of lack of jobs). How do we define community? How do we reinvent our supports and our economy? What is family and what measures do we use to gauge success?” (See below for a selection of some of Lloyd’s favorites.)
Even though the bookstore is now closed for the season, Lloyd fills orders year-round and recently opened a page on bookshop.org. This allows people to purchase books from anywhere to support Grandpa’s Barn, and it allows Lloyd to sell books that she doesn’t carry in the store. While this is a great way to support and stay connected to Grandpa’s Barn from afar, there is no substitute for stepping through the door of this unique and cozy bookstore. I strongly recommend planning a fall colors trip so you can enjoy the wood-burning experience in this bookstore at the end of the road.
Grandpa’s Barn is located at 430 Fourth St. in Copper Harbor, and is open from Mother’s Day Weekend through the third week of October every year. Follow them on Facebook to stay connected and show your support by shopping their Bookshop.org page.