By Gene Alloway, owner of Motte & Bailey Booksellers
The busy years of the seventies saw a renaissance in bookshops in Ann Arbor, with such
well-known names as Borders, West Side Books, Dawn Treader, and the Little Professor
shops appearing. But the early part of the decade also saw the end of a very long lived
bookshop, Wahr’s, which had been an Ann Arbor landmark bookseller and publisher for
almost a hundred years.
Wahr’s was founded in January of 1887, when George Wahr bought out two partners in an
earlier venture, called George Osius & Co., at 4 North Main. From the beginning it provided
books both for the university and the town, but wallpaper was also a major part of the
shop. Christmas time and spring were the big sales periods for wallpaper, while the books
sold year round, with peaks at Christmas and the beginning of university terms. Pens and
stationary were also staples, and for a time Wahr’s was also a major seller of sporting
In 1892, Wahr’s opened a shop on South State Street at 310 (the current building houses
Get Your Game On and SEE), and probably moved to 20 South State by 1895, based on
an ad in THE OMEGA from Ann Arbor High School. Wahr’s then moved to its lasting
location at 316 South State in 1903. In the 1930s it also had an Old and Rare shop at 306
S. State, but selling used and rare had been a regular, though small, part of the company
for much of its life.
Wahr’s was also active in publishing, starting in the 1890s. The firm focused on textbooks,
but also included novels, histories, and children’s books. Over 250 different titles were
eventually done, along with calendars showing university buildings. A scarce calendar from
1903 was made in the shape of a football.
Wahr’s remained the flagship store of the city, surviving the depression and continuing to
sell stationary, textbooks and sports equipment. It eventually shut down the original Main
Street location, and focused on more university sales, and still published the odd book as
By the early seventies it was over. George Wahr Sallade, the grandson of the original
George, sold the stock to Tom and Louis Borders in 1975, and closed the eighty-eight year
old business, At one point the Borders brothers had a used and rare bookshop there called
Charing Cross Books at the old Wahr’s location, though it was ran by other people while
they concentrated on their new bookshop across the street at 303 South State. Wahr’s is
still fondly remembered by a number of Ann Arbor residents, and the occasional bookmark,
bag, letterhead, or even box can turn up at resale shops or in estate sales.