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Changes are in store for Ann Arbor's Crazy Wisdom Bookstore

Crazy Wisdom Bookstore & Tearoom

On the eve of its 40th anniversary, Ann Arbor's Crazy Wisdom Bookstore on Main Street could be sold or closed. WEMU's Lisa Barry talks with Crazy Wisdom owner Bill Zirinsky about his plans to sell or lease the local source of consciousness and spirituality.  


Lisa Barry: Life always includes a lot of changes, and that has certainly been the case, perhaps even a bit more than usual this past year and a half during the pandemic. I'm Lisa Barry, and for Ann Arbor area book lovers, a big change is coming in a few months. And here to tell us more about that as the owner of Crazy Wisdom Bookstore, Bill Zirinsky. Hi, Bill, thanks for talking to us. 

Bill Zirinsky
Credit Bill Zirinsky / Crazy Wisdom Bookstore & Tearoom
Crazy Wisdom Bookstore & Tearoom
Bill Zirinsky, owner of Crazy Wisdom Bookstore & Tearoom in Ann Arbor

Bill Zirinsky: Thanks, Lisa, for having me. 

Lisa Barry: As the owner of Crazy Wisdom Bookstore, there's your first hint. What's going on?

Bill Zirinsky: Oh, well, we announced on Monday through our e-blast and on our website that we will be selling or closing, um, Crazy Wisdom Bookstore, the bricks and mortar part of it, on the eve of our 40th anniversary and after a third of a century of our owning it the day after Valentine's Day in February. 

Lisa Barry: So you say selling or closing, so there's an option? 

Bill Zirinsky: Yeah, we have an option. We'll see what happens over the next few months. Who comes into to make an offer to purchase it? What happens after that? We're not quite sure yet. We will be expanding the Crazy Wisdom Journal, which we've been publishing for 25 years, both print and online, which reaches about 20,000 readers per issue. And over the last year and a half of COVID, we've been enhancing our digital presence with the Crazy Wisdom bi-weekly e-zine. And that's now reaching eight thousand readers a month. And I think my wife and I, who are both in our sixties, are ready to look out on new and different horizons. And we own the building. We own it without any debt. And so, we have the good fortune to be able to sort of see what options come to us over the next number of months. 

Lisa Barry: I'm thinking a lot of emotions and thoughts went into making this decision for you and your wife. 

Bill Zirinsky: Yes, of course, as you can only imagine. 

Lisa Barry: Can you share some of those? 

Bill Zirinsky: Oh, I think that I shared them in the announcement, which is that we feel that we're ready to to be untethered from the relentlessness of a retail business. The business is open seven days a week, three hundred and sixty days a year, and there's a certain hamster wheel aspect of staffing and management issues of a retail business. As anyone who has owned one, especially a small one, knows, you know, a third of a century is a great run. And I would like to be looking out as I get closer to 70 years of age--I'm going to turn 68 in December--at a different horizon. And we had our most profitable year in our history, and I thought that was a good way to go out. 

Lisa Barry: Has the pandemic had any impact on your decision? 

Bill Zirinsky: That's an interesting question, Lisa. I think, in some ways, the transition has been a liminal moment for a lot of people and businesses, by which I mean, it's been a threshold. And when the pandemic started, we were closed for six months, and we closed the tea room because we couldn't run a food service establishment during the pandemic, especially one that was just the kind of auxiliary part of the business. And I think that that was a relief for me not to be dealing with staff transitions and the complications of a tea room. So, perhaps that had an effect. 

Lisa Barry: Sounds like you got a bit of a preview of what life would be like if you weren't operating the Crazy Wisdom Bookstore in Ann Arbor?

Bill Zirinsky: Yeah, Lisa, I think also we were already kind of thinking about even before that of what would be a transition for our family. We have a daughter who's just been bat mitzvahed, and it was the for the first time in 27 years, we no longer have any kid in our home who's under 13 years of age. We've had four kids, and uh, this is the first time we can look out on a horizon where we're not going to be raising young kids and taking care of young kids. And so, it's really more of a personal decision. The store's doing well. As I said, we own the building, and I just kind of have. I'm looking forward to some of the adventures that I see some of my friends having them--having these kind of adventures--as they get into their later 60s and 70s. We're both in good health. Thank God. We feel the blessings of that. We feel the blessings of Crazy Wisdom over many decades. It's been an amazing experience for us and for our long-time staff to be part of Crazy Wisdom. We know what it means to the community. We know what it means to have a spiritual bookstore and a bookstore about consciousness and kind of fulfilling that role in the community has given me meaning and purpose in my life, and I know that it has had the same meaning and purpose in the life of its long-time staff, um, and I'm hoping that maybe some others with a vision, maybe younger than ourselves, will kind of come to us and want to step into that role, providing a safe haven for seekers in the region and for countercultural imaginings. 

Lisa Barry: Hmm. I don't want to get in too much into the business nitty gritty, but you say you own the building and the-- 

Bill Zirinsky: Yes. 

Lisa Barry: Is it possible somebody could come along and say, "Oh, Crazy Wisdom Bookstore is for sale. I'm going to buy it and it's going to continue as is." Is that a possibility? 

Bill Zirinsky: It's a possibility. I'm not selling the building. That's not whatsoever. No chance of that. But I would sell the bookstore and maybe somebody will come along who would like to rent that space and then keep the bookstore going in that location, or maybe take the inventory and move it to a new location. Both of those are possibilities as far as I'm concerned. I would love to see somebody who wants to still provide an oasis for people who are searching in their lives psychologically, spiritually, holistically, and in terms of sustainability and conscious living. That would be very pleasing to me and to Ruth and to our long-time staff. Whether that happens or not, I really don't know. In terms of the building after many years of subsidizing our own rent because we own the building, we're not going to be subsidizing somebody to rent the building. But we would really love to have someone come in who wants to rent the building or wants to buy the store. 

Lisa Barry: And I don't want to make you feel bad because, obviously, this has been a big decision for you, and you recognize what Crazy Wisdom Bookstore has meant to this community. 

Bill Zirinsky: Yes. 

Lisa Barry: We're just getting the news out now. Are you getting reaction yet from people? Because to me, it's more than just a bookstore. It's a destination. It's an essence. It's an energy. It's a place to go, as you mentioned, to enrich your life on many levels. 

Bill Zirinsky: Yeah, it's actually really wonderful. There have been already hundreds of likes and loves on Facebook and hundreds of comments from people for whom the store has meant a great deal. You know, you slowly build a store over many decades, and we always had the philosophy of building the store one customer at a time. And in the years when I used to close at the store and people still paid with checks, I'd see all the places in the outlying parts of southeastern Michigan from where we drew customers from. And we have a regional customer base, and I think that we are a unique destination, and it's a very special place for people in the region. And it's really heartwarming to see the comments and the sense of gratitude and how fulfilling it's been. You better believe that Ruth and I are going to create a really great scrapbook for ourselves, so our kids can see what the store meant to people over these decades. And, meanwhile, we're going to continue to be publishing the Crazy Wisdom Journal, which is, you know, a wonderful resource of its own for people who are searching in their lives and who are interested in conscious living. And so, we may even end up using the building for some other consciousness-related projects. So, we're really open to sort of what comes our way. And, yes, Lisa, the gratitude that's flowing out is really music to my ears. 

Lisa Barry: So, the Crazy Wisdom Journal will remain online. Did you say that there will still be an opportunity to purchase items from your store online as well? Or is it just the journal? 

Bill Zirinsky: So, yes. We're going to continue publishing the journal. There are 80 or 90 advertisers each issue. We have our calendar. We have our e-zine. We're keeping our website, both for the journal and the bookstore. We're keeping shop crazy wisdom dot com, and we are also keeping the Ann Arbor holistic site, and we're going to maintain and expand those. I'm really just trying to get Ruth and me untethered from the 30 plus years of responsibility for running a retail business, but the commitment to consciousness is still there.

Lisa Barry: So, like I mentioned, change at the beginning of this conversation. There's sounds like there's still a bit unknown about what will be happening other than you will not running the store, the Crazy Wisdom Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Bill Zirinsky. 

Bill Zirinsky: But we do know we will continue to publish the magazine both print and online, and we know that we will continue to be involved in kind of that aspect of what we're doing. What exactly happens to the bookstore does remain to be seen. 

Lisa Barry: Let me personally thank you for what you've done and brought to the Ann Arbor area community and wish you best of luck moving forward and dealing with this big change. 

Bill Zirinsky: Well, Lisa, that's very nice of you to say and nice of you to call and want to talk to me.

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu

Lisa Barry was a reporter, and host of All Things Considered on 89.1 WEMU.
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