Shelf Space: McLean & Eakin Booksellers

We talk to the beloved indie store’s co-owner Matt Norcross

Matt Norcross

 For this month’s Shelf Space, we talk with Matt Norcross, co-owner of McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Michigan. His bookselling career began in 1992 when his mother, Julie Norcross, opened the award-winning store. It often appears on lists of authors’ favorite independent bookstores. In the New York Times, author and bookstore owner Ann Patchett described it this way: “The books at McLean & Eakin are arranged to beckon, and there are plenty of big chairs to fall into once you heed their call. It is the kind of store where I could happily spend a summer.”

What is McLean & Eakin famous for?

I think we’ve always been known for going above and beyond with customer care. It has gotten to the point where often customers come in and don’t even browse; they find myself or a staff person and just ask for recommendations. It’s a lot of fun and a great way to get to know customers.

If McLean & Eakin were a religion, what would be its icons and tenets?

Oy! Where to begin? To choose just one, I think it would be “Be nice.” Be nice to each other; be nice to customers. Just be nice.

Which was your favorite all-time event and why?

1. The Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows release party. We closed down the street in front of the store and created a wizards’ fair with games and prizes. I dressed as Draco Malfoy and sat in a (very cold) dunk tank. Even though I was nearly hypothermic by the end of the party, it remains a favorite.

mcLean & eakin2. A double-header of Patrick Rothfuss and Ernest Cline. This was a total geekfest! Ernest Cline drove his DeLorean all the way from Austin, and we set up projectors running old-school arcade games like “Pitfall!” and “Donkey Kong.”

Can you give us two or three highlights of the bookstore’s history?

My mom, Julie Norcross, opened the store in 1992. Eight years later, she broke through to the basement level, tripling its size. Six years ago, my wife, Jessilynn, and I bought the store, and we’ve ramped up our area for book fair offerings, along with various educational programs for local schools.

What is your favorite section of the store?

We have a section we call “Quirk.” Some time ago, we realized that “Humor” was too limiting. Does a book like How to Survive a Sharknado really belong in “Humor”? I mean, for some customers, a sharknado is a serious matter. It’s just a great section, filled with some of the most bizarre books in the store.

According to the American Booksellers Association, indie bookstores have increased their numbers in the past five years. What gives your bookstore, and indies in general, its staying power?

I think one of our store’s greatest assets, and indies’ in general, is our ability to adapt and change. Our store recently added a vinyl record section to the store. I never thought that would happen, but it has been a huge hit. We are able to try out new ideas, keep what works and move on.

What are some of the bookstore’s top current hand-sells?

The Painter by Peter Heller; The Last Policeman series by Ben H. Winters; and Untamed: The Wildest Woman in America and the Fight for Cumberland Island by Will Harlan.

What is your ideal busman’s holiday?

A bookstore on an island beach with a beer in my hand and a stack of books at my side.

Karen Schechner is the senior Indie editor at Kirkus Reviews.

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