Detroit's newest booksellers, Erin and Andrew Pineda, describe themselves as former nomads who cherish stories and community.
The couple, who're each 28, are from Utah (he) and Southeast Michigan. They met at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, dated long-distance while serving in Texas and Mississippi, and married in California. They toured the country for eight months in a jade green Honda Element camper and now are building a business called 27th Letter Books, which gets a boost as this year's Hatch Detroit Contest winner.
October's selection in the ninth annual event for entrepreneurs brings a $100,000 grant from Comerica Bank, plus no-cost guidance from architectural, information technology, legal and public relations advisers.
While scouting a permanent location in the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood for "our baby bookstore," the military veterans last weekend opened a holiday season pop-up at 1417 Van Dyke St. in West Village, using a storefront that was the three-year home of a record shop called Paramita Sound (now at a higher-traffic spot in the Siren Hotel downtown). It's open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day except Monday.
"We carry new, general interest books that are carefully curated to highlight underrepresented voices and excellent writing," says the 27th Letter Books site, which explains the name:
"The ampersand (&) was once considered the 27th letter of the alphabet. It developed as a ligature of the letters e and t from the Latin word et, meaning “and.”
"In the ampersand’s history, we see a symbol of coming together, transformation and persistence. It represents creation, adaptation, and the continuing nature of language and of life."
Erin, an avid reader since early child, recalls "many nights caught reading past bedtime, trying to surreptitiously stow a flashlight and book beneath [my] pillow." Her business bio adds that she "cannot wait to geek out with you over space, chemistry and books that make science approachable." She serves in the Air Force Reserve.
Her co-bookseller, who completed his Air Force service, is a published writer and rapper with a master of fine arts degree from Sierra Nevada College.
Reflection and philosophy flow through the startup merchants' Instagram posts, including this delightful backstory about the appeal of Detroit and West Village:
"On a blustery spring day, shortly after Drew and I moved to Michigan, we took a walk around a neighborhood. Hands in pockets to stay warm, we talked and imagined about what our bookstore could be like: what books we would have, the people we would meet, how the store would be set up.
"Our conversation kept turning to the way a person feels when they’re in a place they love. As we talked, we knew that we wanted our store’s experience to be one of welcome, of warmth, of wonder.
"As we stopped to turn around and head back home, I noticed a sign on the outside of a building. An artist had discreetly changed a public notice from 'NO LOITERING' to read 'NO LONERING.' Just a few letters changed the meaning, changed the message, and changed the perspective.
"These words have been stuck in my head since then. I interpreted the phrase 'NO LONERING' as a concise definition of community. We never would have made it to this point in our lives, in our business, or in this city alone. 27th Letter Books is our love letter and thanks to all of you. It is the place we want you to grow your imagination, to feel seen, to know you, in turn, are not alone.
"Thank you to each of you who has voted for us [in Hatch], given us mentorship, shared your book recommendations with us, invited us to your community meetings, and listened to our hopes and dreams. . . . Just remember: NO LONERING."
Lisa Ludwinski, owner of nearby Sister Pie bakery (2014 Hatch winner), posts Saturday that she's "feeling all kinds of jolly welcoming 27th Letter Books to our neighborhood. . . . They have the most beautiful and thoughtfully curated selection. Cozy af, too. Thanks for being here, Drew and Erin!"
Riffing on other brave folks who venture into a landscape dominated by online giants, Ludwinski adds:
"I’ve personally had the pleasure of working with so many independent bookstores across the country this past year while promoting our cookbook. Buying from these folks supports vibrant communities, authors and our collective wealth of knowledge.
"I challenge you to do the majority of your holiday shopping at your local bookstore this season. If you have particular books in mind, email the owners and they’ll get it in stock."