Cultivating a World of Knowledge in Detroit
“I was committed to the idea of getting people to read again. That’s what motivated me to open.”
“I didn’t grow up in a reading house,” said Susan Murphy. Susan is frank when she speaks but carries a warm and inviting demeanor. “ It wasn’t until about high school when I discovered reading. It opened a new world for me. It changed my life.”
On Grand River Avenue sits one of Detroit’s few independent bookstores, Pages Bookshop. Inside is a long room lined with books on every wall and inch, dozens of curated collections chosen by Susan. There are local authors and leading writers from around the world on every shelf. In the center of the store is a large wooden table, inviting for a family or a large group of friends to sit for a moment and share their thoughts. Often a book club or reading group meets here. The smallest piece of furniture in the store is the front desk. This is where you find Susan or her one of her employees greeting you, and their cat cuddling on the counter.
“It was Grapes of Wrath and Little Women. Those were the two first books I read that made such a big impact on me,” she said. “Something about them showed me there was more out there in the world.”
Susan’s reading habits have changed over time but not her dedication to opening a bookstore in Detroit. Susan studied IT and business finance working for many years in the corporate world. About fifteen years ago she began teaching community college at Schoolcraft in Livonia. That’s when she noticed many students couldn’t read or write, and every year she felt it was getting worse. It pained her that many didn’t students experience the joy of reading.
“I didn’t require much writing in my classes but some couldn’t even write a paragraph,” she said.
So Susan went back to Wayne State University to get a Master’s of Library and Information Systems with a plan to work at a public library and do outreach to youth in schools. If she could reach youth sooner, she could open up their world with books. She could help them love reading and writing before they arrived to college.
However, her plan didn’t go so well. At the time Susan graduated the economy crashed. Instead, she looked at opening her own bookstore.
“I was committed to the idea of getting people to read again,” she said. “That’s what motivated me to open.”
The Third Time's The Charm
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“I immediately loved the Grandmont Rosedale neighborhood. I kept hearing how much the community really wanted retail back. They said they couldn’t think of anything better than a bookstore,” she said. “I also sold a lot of books.”
Now open for over a year she’s grown to love the neighborhood more each and every day. Susan say it’s a strong neighborhood with lots of great families, many who are frequent customers of hers. The GRCD organization was helpful in making her transition to opening a success.
“I realized things just don’t happen. You’ve got to make them happen,” she said.
Youth Reading at All Ages & Stages
Now Susan has time to launch her outreach programs inspiring Detroit youth. She says the days when young kids are in the store learning to read are some of the best days in the shop. The kids never fail to surprise her.
“The variety of books they pick. It blows my mind. They read everything from graphic, to literary, to non-fiction,” she said.
Pages Bookshop has four different reading groups for youth at all different ages, starting from storytime for those too small to read for themselves, to 8-12 year olds, a group for teenagers, and one for adults. Engaging kids at all levels helps them to continue to learn and develop their reading skills.
Looking forward, she can’t wait to expand her reading programs and events in Detroit. She sees Pages Bookshop as a center for knowledge and fruitful discussions for all Detroit residents. At a time when Detroit is experiencing drastic change, Susan believes it is knowledge sharing and awareness that can lead to great unity and learning in our community. Stay tuned for more events and expert discussions on topics Detroit is facing today including race, urban development, and revitalization.
“We hope to see more foot traffic too,” she adds.