Voices of Detroit: Janet Webster Jones, Owner, Source Booksellers

Janet Webster Jones, founder and owner of Source Booksellers in Midtown Detroit.
Janet Webster Jones, founder and owner of Source Booksellers in Midtown Detroit.

With all of the recent discussions about the “new” businesses and residents now populating Detroit, often overlooked are the “old” businesses and business people that have been here in Detroit for decades, fighting, striving, surviving, and even thriving against great odds. Some of those odds have very little to do with Detroit per se, but are new national trends, such as the dearth and death of the traditional independent and corporate-owned bookstores due to the explosive growth of online options such as Amazon.

But this IS Detroit, and as we all know by now, “Detroit Hustles Harder.” A Detroit business, an independent bookstore, no less, has been here for over twenty-five years, and is still here welcoming both “new” and “old” Detroiters to Midtown, and teaching the youngin’s how it’s done.

Take a short 3-block walk east from the El Moore, and look around. You will be pleasantly surprised at what you will find.

Meet Janet Webster Jones, a retired Detroit Public Schools teacher who decided more than a quarter of a century ago that she was going to follow her passion and start selling books to the public. Ms. Jones, or simply “Mama Janet” to many of us, started out selling her books at church bazaars and what today are known as “pop-ups” before opening her first retail shop, Source Booksellers, at the Spiral Collective on 2nd Avenue. At that time, Midtown was known as the Cass Corridor, and the area was much different than it is today.

Speaking of today, look around you. Where’s Barnes and Noble? Borders Books? The large corporate-owned general bookstores are virtually non-existent while small independent bookstores like Source Booksellers are still around.

What makes Source Booksellers unique? Why has Janet Jones survived in good and bad times, and why is her bookstore not only still here, but becoming more and more popular every year?

Ms. Jones would answer that question with two words: persistence and niche. Source Booksellers focuses on non-fiction books. The selection includes book categories not often as easily found elsewhere, including topics such as spirituality, metaphysics, culture, health and fitness, and history. The Source Booksellers store also stocks books written by and about women.

When you enter the store, you will be welcomed by Mama Janet herself, and enveloped in the warm, colorful, and culturally decorated space, just as you would expect in a store that is more like a familiar living room. But besides books, you will find maps, fair trade and organic snacks, and locally made jewelry and decorations for your home or office.

Source Booksellers
Source Booksellers

But wait, there’s more! Source Booksellers and Janet Jones are committed to our Detroit community, and also committed to the power of community engagement. There are always wonderful and unique events going on at the store, including “book talks” with local and nationally-known authors, in-depth community conversations on a wide range of topics such as current and historical topics relevant to the people who live, work, and visit our area, and even yoga, tai chi, and belly dancing classes—in a bookstore!

Source Booksellers, located at 4240 Cass Avenue inside the Auburn Building near Canfield Street, along with its owner, Janet Webster Jones, is a beacon in Midtown and a unique Detroit business that has been around for decades. Check out the website for more information, and come and visit with Mama Janet soon. You’ll be so glad you did—yes, there are solid Detroit businesses that have been here for a long time and that were founded and are still owned by solid Detroiters who just hustle harder.