Where Giants Rang Up Sales
by Karen Alvarez

Just south of Nickel’s Arcade at 336 South State (now home to Bivouac) stood a bookstore that served generations of townspeople and university students. Slater’s Books carried a wide range of fiction and non-fiction books, gifts, college textbooks, and school supplies. However, what really set it apart from the many bookstores that bordered campus at the time, was its popularity among Michigan football players.
Slater’s was founded in 1916 by Myron E. Slater. He had already worked in bookselling for several years as an assistant to his uncle, prominent local bookseller John V. Sheehan. In addition to books, pens, and stationery, his new shop offered typewriters, cameras, and photograph developing. Students flocked there every term to buy or sell back their textbooks and to buy tickets to many university social and sporting events. 
The store’s location near campus and relationships with faculty quickly made it one of Ann Arbor’s most successful bookstores. Its two main competitors in the 1920s were Wahr’s and Graham’s. The eminent poet Robert Frost, who lived in town during his tenure as the university’s Fellow in Letters, seems to have been a regular customer. He praised Myron Slater in a 1925 letter to a relative, later published in The Letters of Robert Frost

Slater seems to be stealing the business from the other two partly by enterprise and partly by book knowledge. He has improved the looks of his store a lot. He gets hold of the professors by giving them all 20% discount. They return the favor by keeping him ahead of their assignments for classes. I like him pretty well. 

Myron retired in 1929 and handed the store to his young nephew and assistant, Marvin J. Slater. Marvin immediately set out to grow the business by buying out competitor Charles Graham, expanding the shop’s floor space, and incorporating the business with a new board of directors. Tragically, Marvin died just one year later after a short illness, leaving behind his 25-year-old wife, Florence, and their baby daughter. 


Florence Schaller Slater probably had never expected to become a widow and a business owner at such a young age. Like her husband, she came from an Ann Arbor bookselling family, the daughter of bookstore owner Martin Schaller. A Michigan class of 1926 graduate and an avid sports fan, she became a friend and mother figure to many student athletes. She employed many of them in addition to the ten full-time store employees.


Football star and Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon worked at Slater’s during college in the late 1930s. He reminisced about those days in his memoir Pilots Also Pray

One of the landmarks of Ann Arbor is a college bookstore run by Florence Slater. To the athletes at the University Mrs. Slater is a guiding spirit throughout their years at school. Her friendship and encouragement were among the main reasons I stuck it out when I was just about ready to throw in the towel.

At the beginning of every term, Slater’s Bookstore is always jammed with students getting set with textbooks for the semester’s work. The boys behind the counters handing out those heavy tomes are mainly boys from the different teams. It was always a strange sight to walk into Slater’s during or shortly after registration and see a bunch of clerks whose towering size made them look like men from Mars. Just picture one of those giants handing down, all the way down to some pint-sized coed, something or other like the History of Ancient Greece or an anthology of modern French poetry! You could have thought the Michigan teams were the most literary teams in the world. Anyway, Slater’s became the hangout of our team.


Slater’s remained a favorite of students and townspeople alike over the next thirty years. The store donated trophies and other prizes for inter-fraternity sports championships. Longtime store manager Russell O’Brien led an alumni baseball team called Slater’s Sluggers. Inside at 336 S. State, the travel and children’s books sections were expanded and heavily promoted during the holiday shopping seasons. 

Slater’s eventually closed in 1972 after 56 years in business. At the time it was Ann Arbor’s second oldest bookstore after Wahr’s, which closed that same year. Florence Slater remained in Ann Arbor for the rest of her life, staying active in the community and keeping in touch with old football friends.