FLINT, Michigan—There’s something about stepping inside Totem Books. The smell of freshly ground coffee. The flood of unique paintings, photos, vases and odd little collectibles.
The relaxed sense of community and of belonging.
Flint attorney Dean Yeotis opened the independent bookstore featuring an eclectic collection of books, albums and every kind of art imaginable about a year and a half ago by transforming an old, abandoned liquor store (also featuring a Dumpster out front as an added bonus).
“It was kind of a cancer on the whole neighborhood,” Yeotis says. “Watching it kind of unfold that way for a number of years, I decided to buy the party store to get rid of it. I thought Flint could benefit from an independent bookstore.”
Now it is a flourishing neighborhood jaunt hosting open mic nights, real DJs spinning vinyl, book signings, live performances and other special events.
It stands as one of the few new businesses to locate along Court Street west of downtown, bringing a noticeable investment to the corner also flanked by the White Horse Tavern, a Flint breakfast and pizza staple.
“I’ve always thought about business, unless you feel like you’re solving a problem worth solving or doing something worthwhile, what’s the point?” says Yeotis. “There’s value in independent bookstores and record stores. I think it’s an important and necessary thing for a community and society.”
Located right across the street from his law office, you can often find Yeotis strolling into Totem Books with a smile on his face, his passion for this place lighting up his eyes.
In a society filled with digital music, apps, kindles, and other various media, it’s not every entrepreneur who looks to create his next business built on old vinyl records and gently-used books.
The bookstore is an extension of his commitment to Flint. Yeotis grew up here, attending Flint public schools, and returned after college at Michigan State University and law school at the University of Toledo. He now is active in the community, currently serving as president of the Flint Institute of Arts.
“I knew I loved vinyl records and this is something that other people would feel the same way about,” he says. “I feel the same way about books. I think books are here to stay but it’s a very difficult thing to have a successful business model for an independent bookstore today.”
The bookstore is personal and symbolic, its name comes from Yeotis’ personal interest in Native-American culture.
“The totems are considered sacred objects that are important or meaningful to a group, clan, or community. I like to think of Flint as one community,” says Yeotis, who also owns Found Sound, a record shop in Ferndale.
Walking into Totem Books is an experience like none other—and that’s exactly what Yeotis wants. Totem Books was built to create for Flint a new experience, perhaps even a state of mind that’s “appealing to all the senses.”
When you enter Totem books, you’ll notice its spacious interior first, then the globe lights hanging from the ceiling and the bright art, and antique collectables. Then most store-goers fall into the array of rare vinyl records, rows of bookshelves filled with every genre imaginable, and the fascinating Flint memorabilia—and end up staying for hours.
There is just something about having the physical connection with a book, with art, with music, with the community, Yeotis says. That’s something the digital age just can’t replicate.
“If we can bring people together in our community—with the emphasis on the word together, particularly in interesting and creative ways—it can only benefit our community. Unity is really important for any community to succeed and the more opportunities we have to get together and get to know each other and learn from each other, the better.”
Totem Books is located at 620 W. Court St. in Flint. It is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays. You can also visit its website at www.totembooksflint.com
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