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Gaylord independent bookstore closes after 30 years

Taylor Wizner
Interlochen Public Radio
A sign hanging in the window of Saturn Booksellers in Gaylord. The store closes for good on Thursday.

On a Friday in March, employees chatted, and customers came in and out of Saturn Booksellers, like any typical sunny spring day day.

But on this day, the store scarcely had any books. Just over a week ago, owner Jill Miner wrote on Facebook the store would close.

“The kids' board books were gone [the day] after we announced that we were going to close,” Miner said. “I would say we would usually stock 150 to 200 board books.”

Miner has operated the small store in Gaylord for 24 years. Located on Main Street, it's typically packed to the brim with mysteries, young adult fiction and books by Michigan authors. Saturn offered a unique selection, tailored to the community’s tastes.

“A combination of what we think you will like, and a combination of what we liked that might stretch you a little bit,"Miner said.

Independent bookstores often do more than a typical retail store, but Saturn took it to another level. It hosted elaborate author events that would raise money for the community.

For a book about dating, the store hosted a bachelor auction, where people bid on local men for charity. When new Harry Potter books were released, the store threw big costume parties, where sometimes 2,000 people attended.

“We’d have the local chemistry teacher teach potions and make all kinds of things that blew up and steamed. We played quidditch...and the ladies that worked at the bank dressed up like Gringotts,” Miner said.

Saturn Booksellers owner Jill Miner and employee Amy Handley check out customers on one of the last days the store is open.
Taylor Wizner
Interlochen Public Radio
Saturn Booksellers owner Jill Miner (right) and employee Amy Handley check out customers on one of the last days the store is open.

The packed events attracted the attention of New York publishers. Penguin Random House, the largest publishing house in the country, came to the store often to meet customers and talk about new releases.

Bestselling authors would also show up to talk about their books– somewhat unique for a small store off the beaten path of most book tours.

Katrina Kittle is a novelist from Dayton, Ohio. She’s been to Saturn Booksellers a handful of times, even hosting a workshop there. When Miner championed her work to loyal customers, her sales spiked, Kittle said.

“[Miner] would get regulars coming to these events not because they knew the authors or the books but because they trusted her,” she said. “They would come because of her and because the bookstore didn’t steer them wrong when it came to good books.”

Over the years, Saturn became a Gaylord hangout for people of all ages. Musicians played there, and kids cozied up with a book at the big chair in the window to earn discounts.

“They’re like a live mannequin, and people walking down the sidewalk would always be surprised when they moved,” Miner said.

During the pandemic, Saturn employees FaceTimed with customers to help them select a book. The store expanded its online ordering system, writing personalized notes to customers all over the country. Sales took off and last year was the most profitable year-to-date.

Ultimately, Miner is closing the shop for health reasons. She reads three to five books a week in order to decide what to buy and a problem with her eyes is just making that too difficult to continue. She tried to sell the bookstore, but a buyer fell through at the last minute.

Many of the store’s customers are heartsick to lose the store.

Gaylord resident Bill Wieske said he relied on the store to get books by his favorite historian, Yuval Noah Harari.

Taylor Wizner
Interlochen Public Radio

“There’s a lot of people trying to limit the books we read, and it seems like that’s a direction we don’t want to go and this gives us less options,” Wieske said.

Saturn’s closing will make access somewhat harder, as the closest bookstore to Gaylord is about 45 minutes away in Petoskey.

Kittle said closings happen all the time, but new stores open too, and many are doing quite well. She said there are some things that Amazon can’t recreate, like booksellers’ personal suggestions, or subscription book clubs.

“There’s probably now a hunger in that community for a place like Saturn Booksellers, so I hope that something comes,” Kittle said. “Those are big shoes to fill.”

Taylor Wizner covers heath, tourism and other news for Interlochen Public Radio.