As one of Detroit's few bookstores prepares to close just after its third anniversary, owner Greg Lenhoff has no regrets, a lot of advice and inklings of taking another shot at starting a business in the future.

Lenhoff and wife Sarah announced this week they would close Leopold's Books, located in the Park Shelton building at Woodward Avenue and E. Kirby Street, on Sept. 22.

But the space won't be empty for long. Boutique owner Rachel Lutz told The Huffington Post she signed a six-month lease Friday to open a pop-up shop in its place. Lutz owns the Peacock Room, a clothing store located inside the same building, which she'll continue to operate.

"It's going to be a style and vision that's different than anything that's been in Midtown before," Lutz said about the venture, which will open in October. She plans to announce more details at a public, champagne-fueled event next Thursday.


Greg Lenhoff cited personal reasons as the biggest reason for Leopold's closing, rather than financial ones. However, money certainly played a role.

"Bookselling is a hard business, and it's hard for everyone whether they're here or whether they're in New York," Lenhoff said, referencing the competition brick-and-mortar shops face from convenient and affordable digital sellers like "People are reading more than they ever have before but they're reading online ... [they] have far less incentive than they ever did to remember to buy books."

The Lenhoffs started their business with $50,000 from personal savings and help from friends and family. Rather than hire full-time staff, Greg Lenhoff could be found working in the store, which also hosted readings and events, nearly every day. While they weren't nearing bankruptcy, he said lack of capital was restrictive.

"Get as much money as you possibly can to start," he advised would-be business owners. "You can never have too much startup capital, because it lets you make adjustments."

The couple considered expanding their small but thoughtfully-curated selection of titles. Financial constraints made it difficult, so instead they worked to make their narrow scope a draw.

"What is in a lot of ways a deficiency, not having that much money, we tried to turn into a strength for the business," Lenhoff told The Huffington Post. "We wanted to really believe in what we were doing, so the curation was a way to ensure that it was always something we cared about."

"I don't know if I would have been super excited to open up a box of People magazines every week."


Located in the residential and commercial Park Shelton, Leopold's had the advantage of calling nearby cultural institutions their neighbors; like the main branch of the Detroit Public Library, the Detroit Institute of Arts and Wayne State University. Facing busy Woodward Avenue alongside establishments like clothing store Goods, creperie Good Girls Go To Paris, coffee shop Fourteen East and sushi restaurant Wasabi helped attract business to the bookstore, Lenhoff said.

"Everything here is an island," he said. "If you're going to be on an island, which you're going to be in Detroit, you might as well be on one that's already populated a little bit."

And it's a coveted real estate "island." Mike Martorelli, sales and leasing manager of the Park Shelton, said they had plenty of interest in future available rentals in the nearly-full building.

They meet with existing owners to make sure any new business would be seen as a boon rather than direct competition. And, he said, they can afford to be patient and pick enterprises they and their tenants want to see open, choosing local merchants over the national chains that expressed interest in their space.

But that doesn't mean Woodward's sidewalks are constantly crowded with consumers strolling along and shopping, despite sustained, growing interest and development in Midtown.

"I think it's really hard when everything is always a destination," Lenhoff said. The art and gifts shop City Bird and home goods store Nest on W. Canfield Street and Cass Avenue are a short walk from Leopold's, but he noticed people tend to consider it an entirely different location that requires a drive.

"The vast majority of people … specifically came out to come to the store, and that's it. And it's hard when you're not getting accidental traffic and impulse buyers."

That's why he'd tell people thinking about opening a business to determine the actual use of the area rather than relying on what they've heard or read about the city's neighborhoods.

"Go actually hang out where you think you want to open a brick-and-mortar business and see what the actual foot traffic is like," Lenhoff said. He sees particular promise in the Cass Corridor, which will add several new shops to an existing set of businesses when the Auburn development opens this fall.

One upside Lenhoff sees to Detroit's lack of strong retail corridors is that there's little competition between businesses. Rather, each one that opens helps the others by drawing more people. And perhaps that's why the city's other businesses were one of the best resources for him as a first-timer, a sentiment that others, like the entreprenuers behind Dr. Sushi and the Detroit Institute of Bagels have previously noted as crucial to their success.

"Within a week of us opening [a dozen business owners in Detroit] had introduced themselves and offered help, in some cases full-blown offered us stuff for free," Lenhoff said.


While the Leopold's space is already promised to Lutz, whose new venture will launch less than a year after she opened the popular Peacock Room, what's next for Greg Lenhoff? Taking some time to clear his head, working on the house he and Sarah Lenhoff recently purchased in Corktown and concentrating on the last few weeks at Leopold's before its lease is up.

They'll close with a send-off party on Sept. 22, and until then, attempt to sell off the rest of their stock of art magazines, Detroit-related books, literary fiction, graphic novels and more with a storewide, 50 percent discount.

Down the road, he says he'll likely take another stab at opening a business in the city.

"You sort of catch the bug, whatever it is, the entrepreneurial bug. It really can be a lot of fun and really rewarding even when it's not financially rewarding," he said. "I'll probably try something, but not for a little while."

Ashley C. Woods contributed additional reporting to this story.

Below, see ideas inspired by shop around the globe and compiled by HuffPost Books for ways for bookstores to survive:

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  • Specialize

    By focusing on a particular theme and not straying from it, the<a href="" target="_hplink"> MIT Press Bookstore</a> has a fanatical following. "I spent a few hours here and I was amazed. Literally, every book here is an idea. I found so many interesting books that I had to write down all the titles. They have books published by the MIT Press, but also titles from other academic publishers. Whoever curates the selection is outstanding." -- Yelp review by Terri Y.

  • Have a beautiful space

    Not everyone can be the Ateneo bookstore <a href="" target="_hplink">in a former theater in Buenos Aires</a>, (though Tattered Cover in Colorado <a href="" target="_hplink">has its own take</a> on the former-theater vibe) but the more you create a space that people want to see inside, and stay inside, the more custom you'll have.

  • Offer memberships

    Membership clubs, <a href="" target="_hplink">such as that of Skylight Books</a>, make people feel connected, engages them more with what you're doing, and provides some much-needed cash up front. Member discounts also encourage local shopping, not super shipping.

  • Have an entertaining social media presence

    Social media can engage people from around the world - and get them visiting when they're in town.

  • Offer more than basic coffee

    If you have a coffee shop, make it more than another generic chain, but a destination in itself. <a href="" target="_hplink">Colophon Cafe</a> inside <a href="" target="_hplink">Village Books</a> in Fairhaven, WA is a local favorite for people who want a great, healthy meal. That it's within and overlapping with the bookstore is a win-win for everyone.

  • Host unusual events

    Readings? How staid. Why not host weird parties, music, celebrations, costume competitions, fan nights centered around books? That's what <a href="" target="_hplink">Brookline Booksmith</a> did for <a href="" target="_hplink">the paperback launch of "The Night Circus,"</a> with themed food, decorations, costumes, a tarot card reader, a live band and dancers, and a fun and lively author Q+A. Readers who were there won't forget it in a hurry (and neither will we).

  • Show what good value print can be

    Witness what <a href="" target="_hplink">Strand Bookstore</a> puts on its remaindered titles. Print, it's time to fight back.

  • Sell old books alongside new ones

    The Travel Bookshop in London became famous for putting really old books about travel destinations alongside new ones - you go in for a Lonely Planet, you come out with a first edition of TE Lawrence's thoughts on the Middle East.

  • Feature other printed media alongside books

    St Mark's Bookshop in New York has an unrivaled collection of incredible independent magazines alongside its book selection, creating a great cross pollination of print.

  • Don't ban cell phones

    Some bookstores have a 'no smartphone usage' policy. 'No rude talking on cell phones' is one thing, but 'no looking things up on Amazon' will only succeed in making people feel badly about the store. If they really want to buy a book on Amazon that they've looked at in your store, you won't stop them. Giving them a negative association with your store means they'll not only do it again - but probably not come back.

  • Bundle books, movies and music together

    The new Hunger Games movie DVD comes in a variety of special-edition box sets with free pendants, backpacks, jewelry - but not the book. Yet as <a href="" target="_hplink">Small Demons</a> demonstrates, books are connected to other cultural objects in myriad ways. Why not make those visible and offer special themed bundles?

  • Establish an ongoing relationship with well-known local creatives

    You don't have to wait until local names have a book out, so you can organize a signing. Identify peoples' favorite local authors, designers, creatives with cult audiences, and work with them to make special book jackets, bookmarks, posters, or other exclusive book-themed items. They could run bimonthly events or a one-off class. They'll love supporting their local store, and you'll get new products and increased local interest from another fan base.

  • Curate a themed noticeboard

    We don't know if it's still there, but the travel bookstore Altair in Barcelona used to have an incredible feature: a noticeboard for people looking for travel partners. People would pass by and read to see where people were going, what adventures they could dream about joining - and maybe which journeys they might just make their own.

  • Bookstore, Library partnerships

    <a href="" target="_hplink">Bookstores are opening inside libraries</a>. Why shouldn't both team up and find ways to celebrate reading together?

  • Keychains

    It sounds ridiculous, but if people have your name on their keychain, they'll see it and touch it every day, and remember you're there. Make them free with memberships or sell them at cost - consider it a piece of effective guerrilla marketing. But you have to make them good enough (and small enough) for people to want to use! <em>Image from <a href=",641892299" target="_hplink">LabelMakers on</a></em>

  • Make a nonprofit

    <a href="" target="_hplink">Kepler's</a> is hiving off its community features into a new non-profit, giving it greater flexibility and financial advantages.

  • Host other events

    Bookstores have already been the venue for <a href="" target="_hplink">screenings</a>, private parties, <a href="" target="_hplink">weddings</a>, <a href="" target="_hplink">commemorations</a>. Why not host read ins, book speed dating, geekouts and more? It certainly helps if you have a space <a href="" target="_hplink">like Powerhouse Books</a>...

  • Hold classes

    Book Clubs are all well and good, but why not further people's reading and knowledge in other ways? Politics & Prose in Washington, DC offers <a href="" target="_hplink">a fantastic series of classes</a> to its patrons.

  • Pool resources

    Create a group of small, non-competing booksellers around the country, and together pool resources to make something amazing that can only be sold in your stores (and not on your websites). For instance, what would happen if 15 booksellers all put in $1,000, and paid Neil Gaiman or Gillian Flynn or E.L. James to write an exclusive short story, printed on an Espresso Machine in one of the network's stores, and distributed between them? <em>Image from <a href="" target="_hplink"></a></em>

  • Do literary-themed stunts

    Book Soup has <a href="" target="_hplink">gained a reputation</a> for unexpected yet intelligent headline-grabbing stunts, including against Paris Hilton and Margaret Thatcher. The resultant sales and publicity did them no harm whatsoever.

  • Sell other, high-quality book-themed products

    Take a leaf from<a href="" target="_hplink"> STL Books</a>, erm, book, and track down decent literary-themed suppliers such as Out of Print Clothing.

  • Publish Books

    Increase your presence and help get cutting-edge work out into the world, while potentially creating a new revenue stream. City Lights in San Francisco <a href="" target="_hplink">has been doing that since 1955.</a> Or you can save out-of-print titles, <a href="" target="_hplink">as Singularity & Co is working to do.</a>

  • Print books

    <a href="" target="_hplink">Espresso Book Machines</a> are starting to appear in bookstores - such as<a href="" target="_hplink"> this one in Harvard's bookstore</a> - offering print-on-demand titles from a vast database. But the machine isn't enough - you also need to help people understand how and why they should use it, such as making short story-compilations for the beach or for flights.

  • Encourage local self publishing

    It's one thing to have a printer, but with great expertise in reading and local affairs, why not help local writers self publish, and then sell their books in a section of the store? McNally Jackson in New York offers <a href="" target="_hplink">a range of self-publishing services</a> to its clientele, who then get the added thrill of printing off and selling copies in their favorite local bookstore.

  • Invite guest community curators

    Having art on the walls is one thing, as <a href="" target="_hplink">Fantagraphics</a> does extremely effectively, but why not invite local guest curators from your community to fill a corner of your store with different objects, books from the store, artwork and personal possessions to tell a story they think is important? Each time, they'll bring in friends and family, expanding your audience and adding something new to the local atmosphere.

  • Team up with other local brands

    For a local bookstore to thrive, it needs to be an essential part of the community - and that includes the community of vendors as well as consumers. So why not team up with local brewers, like <a href="" target="_hplink">The Spotty Dog in Hudson, NY</a>? You could offer poetry for their beer labels, introduce literary-themed screenings at the local arthouse cinema, donate books to your local coffee shop's reading corner... and encourage them to come into the store and recommend books as well.

  • Make your staff a feature of the store

    Staff recommendations - like this nicely designed example from <a href="" target="_hplink">Politics & Prose</a> - are great, but why stop there? Why not let each staff member make a small booklet of their top books, or include special "Jane recommended this. Here's others she thinks you might like" bookmarks inside certain purchases? Knowledgeable and friendly bookstore employees are one of the key benefits of real-world bookstores. Use them wisely.

  • Sell Online

    Amazon isn't the only company who can sell online. The website <a href="" target="_hplink">IndieBound</a> can help you find books sold digitally in a way that your local indie bookstore will get a cut from the sale; they also have <a href="" target="_hplink">their own iOS reading app. </a> And why not offer value Amazon can't? Signed copies, extra presents, surprise packages, reading guides... enhance the reading experience and customers will love you for it.

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