Turning Back the Pages in Schuler Book History

by Ruthie Paulson Gómez

Photograph of Cecile and Bill Fehsenfeld sitting in Schuler Books, a bookstore.

2012 marks Schuler Books’ 30th year in business. Currently Schuler has grown to become the largest independent bookseller in Michigan with five of the most extensive stores in the nation. The origins of Schuler Bookstore began with a love story of sorts.

Cecile and Bill Fehsenfeld met while working together at Ulrich’s Books in Ann Arbor. Prior to 1981, while Cecile was getting a Master’s degree and following other pursuits, Bill worked for five and a half years at Borders Book Shop in Ann Arbor – first as Christmas help, later for several years as a night manager. In 1982, they invested their savings and borrowed from the bank to finance the opening of Schuler Books.

The growth of the business began with the first location in Grand Rapids. The store initially carried 27,000 titles. There were seven people on staff at that time, all full-time employees. From the beginning, Schuler Books was the largest, best stocked bookstore in Grand Rapids. In September of 1995, Schuler Books moved and re-opened to a 28th Street location with the addition of music and a café. The title base has expanded at a steady rate and the 28th St. location now carries 100,000 book titles and several music and DVD titles. Over many years Schuler Books has established themselves as the premier bookstore in the community.

In October of 1990, a Schuler Books location was opened in the Lansing area. By May of 1995 this culminated in the opening of a café expansion in the store. In 2001, a larger space in Meridian Mall became available. At that time a music selection with over 50,000 titles and DVD’s were added to the inventory. The Okemos store was the first to carry DVD’s.

In 1999 Schuler Books began to plan seriously for the launch of the website www.schulerbooks.com. The purpose has been twofold—to promote the bookstores, and to offer customers the convenience of another means of accessing them. The site launched in March of 2000, and has been most successful as a marketing tool:  to post upcoming events and to post pictures and synopsis of past events. The website allows customers to see an events calendar, search for books and eBooks, view and order book club lists and books, and order media.

In September of 2002, a third store was opened in East Lansing on Lake Lansing Road. This became Schuler Books’ second location in Lansing. Eastwood is located in a lifestyle-type mall—the stores form a small community with sidewalks. All parking and storefronts are in the open air. The strongest season there is summer when the weather is fair and walking outdoors between stores is easier than in inclement weather.

In April of 2003 the Alpine Avenue location opened. This was the fourth store and second location in Grand Rapids area.

In 2007, after much deliberation, Schuler Books decided to buy the assets of the old River Bank Books, retool the layout and inventory, and open the store as Schuler Books Downtown. In September of 2009, a liquor license was obtained, and beer and wine is now sold at the downtown location.

Even as the Schuler Books story began as a love story between two co-workers, this legacy seems to live on in the Schuler Books world. Emily Stavrou, Promotions for Schuler, informs me that the Schuler Books family has “quite a few married employees (taking after the lead of Bill & Cecile), and many have paired off and gotten married while working here.”

Along with romance blossoming at Schuler Books, several Grand Rapids community shakers were once a part of the Schuler Books family. Hugo Claudin of Mexicains Sans Frontieres recounts his Schuler Books story:

“I worked at Schuler Books for seven years. I had the Pop-Psych section which was the breadwinner at the time. My interview lasted three hours and I had the pleasure of meeting Jeff Boughner talking about the Velvets and MC5. Jeff was a huge music fan and had the greatest music collection I had ever seen. We put together a talent show that featured poets and musicians that worked there. Also, I remember the break room had a bean-bag way ahead of google on that one. I had long fingernails which I painted funky colors and wore crazy shit to work. Met some of the most talented and creative people in Grand Rapids while I worked there. Bill and Cecile had the best people working for them; they were all book geeks that had a passion for literature. It was like a big family of book geeks.”

Lindsay McHolme of the Literacy Center of Western Michigan recounts her Schuler Books story:

“I started working at Schuler in 1999 at the Chapbook Cafe. After about six months, I was promoted to the music section and eventually worked in both the books and the music on and off, full and part time until 2007. For me, Schuler was more than a job to make ends meet while I was going to school. My co-workers were passionate about music and literature, and genuinely interested in life, and many of them became lifelong friends. We prided ourselves in the fact that we had all ‘passed’ the notorious book/music test required when filling out an application for employment. I loved working there. It was the perfect place for an English teacher/community worker to get started.”

Here’s to another 30 years to Schuler Books & Music. Owner Cecile Fehsenfeld says it best, “We are very thankful for the continued support of a community that is not only invested in reading and literacy, but also understands the value of a local, independent bookstore.”

Photograph of Ruthie Paulson-Gomez by Tim Motley.
©2012 Motely Cat Studio.

Ruthie Paulson Gomez thinks, dreams, and loves in two languages: English and Spanish. She modeled professionally in Milan and Nice and now works in the nonprofit sector in West Michigan. Other past-times include tango dancing and sunflower-raising.



2 thoughts on “Turning Back the Pages in Schuler Book History

    • November 9, 2012 at 1:31 am

      You're very welcome. Was my pleasure! Thank you for providing me with so many interesting tidbits for the story ;0)

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