For our first Bookstore Road Trip we are delighted to be featuring Snowbound Books in Marquette. Nestled along the hillside of North Third Street mere blocks from Lake Superior, Snowbound Books is a thoughtfully curated bookstore where one can easily spend an afternoon. Easily. After spending many such afternoons among its shelves over the years during my beloved road trips to the UP, it was a true honor to finally meet Dana Welshans, the owner, and learn a bit more about the history of Snowbound and its impact on its community.
Rachel Pastiva: Are you originally from Marquette? If not, where are you from, and what brought you to Marquette?
Dana Welshans: I am originally from the Clarkston area. I came up to Marquette to attend NMU, and just stuck around after. Rachel: Please tell us a bit about the history of Snowbound Books, including who the original owner was and how it has changed hands over the years.
Dana: Ray Nurmi started Snowbound in 1984 with fewer than 10,000 used books. Almost immediately after, the city decided to replace the watermain in front of the store, so he had a fledgling business facing a mudpit. But Marquette had decided it needed a bookstore, and supported him through the construction, and here we still are. Originally he only used part of the first floor of the building, but over the years he expanded it to the size it is now (about 1000 sq.ft & 23,000 books), and added new books to the collection, and it has become one of the oldest independent bookstores in the Midwest. I started here in the late ’90s (none of us are sure exactly when), and found a home. When Ray began thinking about retiring, he groomed me to take over, gradually turning more and more responsibilities and decisions over to me, providing a sounding board for me to bounce ideas off of. He was an incredible mentor, and when I bought the store in 2013, it felt more like an adoption than a business transaction.
Rachel: One of the many things I love about Snowbound is that you sell both new and used books, and they are combined on the shelves, so you never know when you’re going to find a great title for a discounted price! I’m impressed by the selection of used books. Are used books acquired solely from your customers?
Dana: Thanks! We’ve come to the conclusion that having both new and used books is really the key to surviving. It allows us to have a little something for everyone and every budget, and to offer old, odd and eclectic books that we wouldn’t (or couldn’t) carry otherwise. We buy from our customers, of course, but also travel to lower Michigan, Wisconsin, and even Duluth to find good used books. Shelving the new and used together just makes sense to us. It saves space and time having them together. I’ve never understood why some store separate out by size or new/used status.
Rachel: Snowbound represents quite a broad selection of subjects, including children’s books and young adult. What are some of the top selling sections?
Dana: We try to have a little something for everyone – young and not-so-young. Kids books are strong sellers for us, and in the adult realm fiction, history and science/nature are probably our best categories.
Rachel: In what ways does Snowbound engage with the book-loving community of Marquette and the UP?
Dana: We feel that it’s one of our main jobs to be part of the community. We work with schools and libraries all over the UP, and are highly involved in the One Book, One Community reading project here in Marquette. Several years ago, the selection was the Vietnam novel The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. We organized a book drive for soldiers overseas and shipped boxes of books around the world. We still do it, and one company we send books to has created the “Southeast Asia Snowbound Annex” in their rec room.
Rachel: Can you recommend a title or two on the history of the UP, or that uses the Upper Peninsula as the backdrop of the story?
Dana: I would say the two best general histories of the UP are Call It North Country by John Bartlow Martin and Deep Woods Frontier by Theodore Karamanski. For fiction, my personal favorite is Ursula Under by Ingrid Hill, a story about a little girl who falls down a mine shaft in the Keweenaw and the media circus that follows. The backstory traverses the globe and 2000 years, and proves that the world is smaller than we imagine, and we are all connected somehow.
Rachel: What is a book you’ve read in the past year that you’ve been a real cheerleader for?
Dana: You know, I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years, and this question always stumps me. How to pick just one? For 2016, I’m going to say it was LaRose by Louise Erdrich, a companion to Plague of Doves and Round House. She is a phenomenal writer, and she always breaks my heart. Her body of work seems to be telling one big story of the Little No Horse Reservation, and I love seeing her characters from different viewpoints, angles and time periods in each book. I feel like I know them, that I’ve watched them grow up and grow old. It’s impressive as hell. Hers are some of the very few books I reread, and I always discover something new. We keep waiting for her to win the Nobel (It’s gonna happen, dammit. It has to.)
Snowbound Books is located at 118 N. Third Street in Marquette. Please make it a point to visit the next time you find yourself on the other side of the bridge. Just be sure to save up before you go, and give yourself lots of time to browse!