Kaleidoscope Books

Back in the fall of 2010, I had a part-time student job that really wasn’t me.  On the surface, I couldn’t complain: I worked with great people, I had a reasonable supervisor, and the pay was decent for a part-time student job.  The work itself was the poor fit, but for the record I did my job dutifully until the day Jeff Pickell saved me from it.

Kaleidoscope Books was my go-to place that fall.  I had long talks with Jeff, the owner, about anything and everything as I escaped from some of the pressures of my first semester in grad school.  For everyone else who has been drawn to Kaleidoscope, we all know that my descriptions of Jeff, his store, and the good times there can’t do any of them justice.  Having a bad day?  I would have recommended going to Kaleidoscope.  A good day?  Kaleidoscope.  Not any kind of day but just generally putzing about the Kerrytown area?  Kaleidoscope.

Luckily for me, Jeff had an opening because his previous assistant’s first book had been published and was a serious contender for the 2011 Caldecott Medal, which it went on to win.  Those are some pretty large shoes to fill, but Jeff was willing to take a chance on a twenty-two year old grad student who rambled on a bunch about 1920s romance novels.

I started working odd hours in the store late that fall and went to work there regularly as Jeff’s Online Business Manager starting in January of 2011.  We took our descriptions and listings seriously, but always had fun with them.  They’d say something like “this book about orange cats, a favorite subject of a Kaleidoscope employee…” or “the owner and his assistant disagree on whether this book is in near fine or fine condition – purchase now and cast your vote.”  Together we listed nearly 1,000 items that year.

In 2013, I moved out of state but tried to visit Jeff at Kaleidoscope Books anytime I was in Michigan.  My most recent visit to Kaleidoscope Books was in November 2016, when Jeff surprised me with some news.  He was retiring, and a majority of the store was going to auction in 2017.

Kaleidoscope Books was all about its people, and its books.  Everyone was welcome and friends stopped by regularly.  Needless to say, I also purchased some really special books from Kaleidoscope.  In December of 2016, my boyfriend surprised me with a final few books from the store.

I had said goodbye to the store as I had known it back in November, but I couldn’t miss the auction.  I needed to see the store off in style.  So, I woke up early one unseasonably pleasant February morning and headed to the Saline Fairgrounds with my mom and Daniel.  Nearly the whole gang was there.  It was bittersweet, seeing some familiar faces I hadn’t seen in nearly four years.  Even the old weatherbeaten outdoor sign was in attendance, one of many, many items in three full warehouses.  My mom was ready to go before I was, and Daniel stayed with me so I could get the visual closure of seeing an auctioneer selling items table by table.  It was my first auction, and a lot to wrap my head around.  Finally, I said farewell (for now!) to Jeff, Deborah, and Isaac before taking the picture at the top left of this post.  The top right picture is from 2011.

It was tough saying goodbye to a place that means so much to me.  But this also marks the beginning of Jeff’s much-deserved retirement, a new chapter and the next adventure.  Today, June 5th, is Jeff’s birthday and this post is for him.  Happy Birthday, Jeff!  And thank you, for everything.

… Missing the experience of buying a book from Kaleidoscope Books?  Good news!  Kaleidoscope Books may no longer be in Kerrytown, but a curated subset of its inventory is available online at Abebooks!  The digital storefront can be found at: https://www.abebooks.com/kaleidoscope-books-collectibles-ann-arbor-mi/55605396/sf.

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4 Responses to Kaleidoscope Books

  1. What a warm and heartfelt rememberance. I have visited the store and found it chock-a-block
    full of every kind of item. Tons of ephemera, interesting older collectibles, and a never ending treasury of print, advertising items, and books galore stuffed the store. Thanks for recounting this great experience and your personal involvement with the store.

  2. Great story! I was lucky enough to be taken to Kaleidoscope by your Mother back in the day, and I found a few things in his massive inventory to my liking.

    I also want to state how delightful it is to have a new post from thegoodbadbook.

    – Cal in California

  3. Jane Kahan says:

    I miss Kaleidoscope already. My only regret is that I was never in the S. State Street location. My favorite Kaleidoscope story is: Jeff daring you to buy the book online with the typo price. Over the years, I purchased many treasures at the store but the experiences you had there were absolutely priceless. This is a really sweet write-up.

  4. Michael Manz says:

    Nicely done Jess. I wish I’d had a chance to get to the shop again after that first visit, it was a very memorable place, with a very memorable owner! Best of luck to Jeff and to you!

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