Morning is slowly stirring on a hot summer day in downtown Brighton, Michigan – traffic is light and there are still parking spots along the quaint street lined with overflowing petunia baskets. Nestled in the middle of Main Street, located below street level, is the 2 Dandelions Bookshop where owners Jeri Kay (Dandelion #1) and Jeanne (Dandelion #2) are sitting in the pre-opening quiet reliving an unexpected surprise that happened the morning of the store’s opening day.
“It was a Friday – October 11 – and we were here getting the store ready and crying because we couldn’t believe that we actually did it,” Jeri Kay recalls, her cadence quickening. “When suddenly, out of the blue, Jeanne receives a long email from Roy Freeman, the son of Don Freeman – you know – who wrote Corduroy.”
Roy Freeman, who lives in Europe, was writing because the shop’s name caught his attention in Shelf Awareness.
“He wanted to know if we were aware of his dad’s book Dandelion,” Jeri Kay says, beaming.
“Which of course we were!” Jeanne exclaims. “We immediately went to take a picture of the books on our shelves and sent it to him. That’s how our day started. Later that day we had a ribbon-cutting with giant scissors with the Chamber of Commerce. It was an amazing day.”
And an amazing journey.
The seeds for 2 Dandelions began “in the heads” of the two former Kindergarten teachers (Jeanne is retired and Jeri Kay still teaches at a nearby elementary school). Both big fans of independent bookstores, the two friends started talking about opening a shop together. Their talking soon led to scribbling notes on coffee shop receipt . . . to phone calls…to reserving rooms at the public library . . . to field trips to other bookstores . . . to peeking in the windows of available commercial properties . . . to talking to a bank . . . to, finally, transforming a former hair salon into the only independent bookstore in the county.
“It was a lot of hard work,” Jeanne says, with a slow head shake. “You don’t just decide to open a bookstore one day and do it the next.”
After stocking the space with bookshelves and furnishings from their own homes (including Jeanne’s grandmother’s rocking chair in the children’s nook), and receiving their first delivery of 700 books (they took a picture with the UPS driver to commemorate the momentous event) it didn’t take long for the 2 Dandelions Bookshop to bloom.
“It was a lot of hard work. You don’t just decide to open a bookstore one day and do it the next.”
Within the first five months, the bookshop hosted a number of well-attended events, including a Veteran’s Day event in November that featured elementary school choirs singing patriotic songs and a table where people could write notes to active military.
“It was packed! You could not get in the door,” Jeanne recalls.
Michigan authors, an important emphasis for the store, were also big draws and included children’s author Deborah Marcero, cookbook author Mandy McGovern, Colleen and Mike Monroe, Denise Brennan-Nelson of nearby Howell, among many, many others.
“We had a lot going on,” Jeanne acknowledges. “We were just getting going with events. It was exciting.”
But then, the night after the store’s first Book Club meeting on March 12, the local schools shut down. The bookshop soon followed.
“We closed before any business in downtown Brighton,” Jeri Kay recounts. “There was so much uncertainty…and not being able to touch things. How do you run a bookstore without being able to touch the books? That’s when we decided we were going to close.” She waits a beat before adding quietly, “It was a big decision, but it was the right decision.”
Originally thinking the shutdown would just be “a three-week spring break,” the pair started reinventing the store to online sales, and, with the help of social media, the website orders started coming in. The bookshop sold some books every day either through the website or through calls to the store. Jeri Kay even made deliveries to local customers herself.
On April 1 they applied for a Binc grant to replenish their nearly depleted inventory.
“Our shelves were almost bare, so we used the grant to order more books,” Jeanne relays. First on the list? Michigan authors (of course) and nature-themed books, which had seen an uptick in demand during the shutdown.
“Since the pandemic, people are bird-watching,” Jeanne explains. “Even children. People are home and noticing nature, which is one of the benefits of slowing down.”
As for the future, the two owners see anything but a slowdown for their beloved bookshop. The 2 Dandelions feel strongly that opening the bookstore was the exact right thing to do: right place, right time. If anything, the pandemic has only made them more rooted in their commitment to be around “for a long time.”
“We picked dandelions purposefully because of the characteristics of the flower,” Jeri Kay explains. “It’s resilient, joyful and you have a wish at the end, which provides hope. That’s what books do.”
And what Binc grants do for so many small bookstores like 2 Dandelions Bookshop.
“It [a Binc grant] can make a big difference. This pandemic has had a huge impact on people like us who are living their dream and trying to weather a rough time,” Jeri Kay says, and then, as if to demonstrate her point, walks over to a table where a book is displayed upside down and turns it right side up.
“We picked dandelions purposefully because of the characteristics of the flower. It’s resilient, joyful and you have a wish at the end, which provides hope. That’s what books do.”