By Kelsey Ronan

Whether you're looking for the latest work by your favorite author or a place to meet with Flint's well-read and well-informed, Pages Bookstore offers a calm, quiet space in Downtown Flint. The Second Street shop is a great place to curl up on the sofa with something to read and sip a cup of coffee while the city buses sigh past and the bells of First Presbyterian chime away the hours.

Pages opened in December of 2004 when Tracy Atkinson, a community organizer and grant writer, decided to become a part of the revitalization of Downtown Flint. "From all those conversations taking place at the time about how to revitalize downtown, we came to the conclusion that it would take private people. I wanted to be a part of that rebirth and I had a dream of starting my own business, so I decided if I was going to do it, it was going to be downtown. All my disposable income was going towards books, so I figured I might as well open a book store." Atkinson calls Pages a "book boutique," and, like other shops downtown, she said, the shop offers "more than just shopping—you get a whole experience."

Pages provides a meeting place for readers, writers and thoughtful citizens. "Most people coming in have interests in Flint and in community and politics. Anyone stopping in, even the mailman and the guy delivering the newspaper, have opinions on Flint and what's going on in the community."

When she first opened the store, Atkinson said she stocked mostly bestsellers, but quickly learned her growing clientele were interested in other reading material, and most of those bestsellers went to the discount shelf. "It was old literature, classics, books in their fifth and sixth printing that people requested. History books, children's books and books on politics also sell well. I listen to my customers. I can't carry everything, but I do special orders."

Pages also specializes in books by Flint writers, offering the latest titles by academics as well as works by burgeoning writers."When I first opened the store, I heard people say all the time, 'I'm going to write a book!’ And I'd say, 'Great! Write it!'" Atkinson said. She soon found herself serving as a technical assistant to self-published writers, helping authors find their local audience. Pages frequently hosts readings and signings.

Connor Coyne brought his first novel, Hungry Rats, to Pages. "It’s the first independent bookstore of note that is a resource for authors and a place to cultivate community," he said. Hungry Rats is a noir mystery set in Flint, where Coyne grew up (he now lives in Chicago). He said he is grateful for a Flint audience to whom he does not have to explain his book. "There’s a vocabulary people from Flint can relate to," he said.

People crave Flint writing, Atkinson said-—especially history. “Learning the city’s history is like learning your grandparents’ stories; people want it explained, want to know how it all happened and how we came to this place. And they want to know if everything is going to be all right,”

Atkinson isn't herself a writer. Her tastes in reading include social justice and biographical history. "When I opened the store, people came in wanting to talk to me about old literary authors. And I would say, 'I don't know these people. Ask me about Cornel West.'"

Pages is a regular stop on the Flint Art Walk, a free event sponsored by the Greater Flint Arts Council every second Friday. Roughly 300 people stop in Pages every art walk to peruse the shelves, check out the paintings and photographs on the walls, and listen to local musicians. "Some of these people shouldn't even sing in the shower," Atkinson said.

Those warblers fit with Pages aesthetic, however. All local art is valued and encouraged. The walls are a shifting display of work by local artists, and locally made crafts are frequently for sale. The store serves a variety of needs, not only for book clubs and writers groups, but for campaign fundraisers and a literacy program for adults, as well as public access tv.

Literacy, Atkinson said, is tremendously important to her. "It's not just about the ABCs but about interest in books. If there's something in a book you want to know, you'll find a way to get that information." Small classes are offered in privacy under the tutelage of volunteers from the Genesee County Literacy Coalition.

Pages currently hosts two book clubs. Kemet Egyptian history group has met for six years and takes yearly trips to Africa as well as cultural excursions to Detroit and televised book discussions. Take Time to Read is composed of GM Engineers who have made the commitment to read.

Pages Bookstore is located at 132 W. Second Street, Flint MI 48502 and is open Monday-Saturday.

© Kelsey Ronan, 2010