This fall marks the 45th anniversary of West Side Book Shop, Ann Arbor’s oldest open bookstore, which opened on September 21st, 1975. Located at 113 W. Liberty St., West Side Book Shop is housed in the Haarer building, one of three buildings that make up the Liberty Street Historic District. Built in 1888, supposedly from his share of winnings from a German lottery ticket, John Haarar expanded his photography studio that had been in the same location, soon adding books and stationary to his offerings. By 1898 he was no longer in the photography business, but continued selling books (along with insurance). His son Ernest later took over running the bookstore, and Ernest’s son Ernest later helped. The building was purchased by the city in 1964 with the intent to tear it down to build a parking lot. Fortunately, because the city had promised two of Haarer’s sons who still lived in the building that they could remain for the rest of their lives, the building was not torn down, and eventually became the headquarters for Ann Arbor’s sesquicentennial in 1974. It was during that time that West Side Book Shop owner Jay Platt walked by the building and thought it would make a good bookstore. Having worked with textbooks and at David’s Books for a couple of years in the early 1970s, Jay had found his passion. The city sold the building in April 1975 and in August, Jay and a business partner paid their first month’s rent, and held a party at the store on opening day. Jay commissioned artist John Copley to paint a sign in the style of the age of the building, and lettering on the window to reflect its architectural character. The spirit of the building’s origin remains in the backroom of the book shop, where Doug Price sells antique photographs in what used to be John Haarer’s studio.
Help keep the legacy of bookselling alive at 113 W. Liberty by stopping by to shop its beautiful collection of books!
Featured in November 2020 newsletter