For the Love of Books and Friendship

For the Love of Books and Friendship

Molly Wilson, CSPA Alumni

A slight breeze from outside enters the room as the door to the 2 Dandelions Bookshop swings open. The man who entered the shop takes a look around, admiring the shelves lining the space. Greeting cards hang down the wall to the right of the door and a pole in the middle of the room is covered in colorful book pages, hiding the color of the paint underneath. The bright yellow and green walls and the cheery dispositions of the women inside makes him forget that the building is below ground. He greets the owners of the store, smiles, and remarks, “I can tell you’re teachers.”

Jeanne Blazo and Jeri Kay Thomas opened the 2 Dandelions Bookshop in downtown Brighton, Michigan in October of 2019, but started their professional lives as educators. The two women met while working at the Miller Early Childhood Center and have continued to strengthen that relationship ever since. “That’s when Jeanne and I became friends,” Thomas says, glasses slowly sliding down her nose as she speaks. Although both teachers went to work at different elementary schools after Miller closed, they look back on their time there with pride, smiling softly as they reflect. “We rely on Miller teachings and learnings and everything we did there as we go forward,” Blazo says. Blazo has now retired as an educator but Thomas continues to teach kindergarten part time at Spencer Elementary.

Their shared passion to teach was not the only thing that brought the two women together; both of them love books. “I remember in first grade I won this award for reading the most books in the class – I just loved books!” Blazo laughs slightly as she speaks, “It has been in me for a long time, it’s kinda in my bones.” As their relationship grew and their deep appreciation for books was only enhanced, the idea of opening a store together emerged.

Both women would scope out independent bookshops anytime they would travel, either together or with their own families, planting the seed in their minds for what their shop could look like one day. For years, they walked up and down the sidewalks of Main Street, looking into the windows of buildings for sale along the strip. Blazo recalls, “Every time we would see a storefront on main street we would peek in and go: What do ya think? Where would we put the coffee pot?”

When their future shop’s storefront was listed, the two finally began planning their business. “That’s when we went into Two Brothers Coffee,” Thomas shares, referencing a small, local coffee shop located a few stores down from their own, “and we said ‘let’s just write it down. Let’s just write down some stuff.” As the two women entered the coffee shop they realized they hadn’t come prepared. “We didn’t even have any paper,” Thomas continues, Blazo shaking her head at her past self as her partner speaks, “so we asked for a piece of paper from them and they gave us one of the guest checks, one of those green tickets. That’s what our first business plan is written on.” That small green check is now framed and hung in the store, marking the beginning of their adventure together.

Bookshelves of varying heights fill their shop, mismatched wood tones illuminated by the soft yellow glow of the fairy lights draped above. “We started on a bit of a shoestring budget.” Blazo says. Along with the bookshelves and tables with stacks of colorful books laid on top, the store is filled with soft red rugs and plump chairs. Always someplace to either sit or stare in every corner of the store. “We’re used to creating an engaging environment for students – for learners – and it’s the same idea that you want in the bookshop.” Thomas says, “You want it welcoming, you want it warm, you want people to feel safe and engaged.”

Colorful index cards are strategically placed among the books on the shelves lining the walls. The “shelf talkers”, as they call them, are reviews left by customers, Thomas’s students, as well as Blazo and Thomas themselves. They provide further insight on stories that go beyond the blurbs in the inside cover, just one way that they listen to the voices of their customers. “We evaluate constantly,” Blazo says, looking over to her partner to corroborate her claim. Thomas agrees, adding that the most important skill they gained from teaching is “to listen” and to “figure out what’s happening and judge the situation.” They use this skill to make their book selections as well.

Before the store opened late last year, the two set up a table during the annual Taste of Brighton on Main Street, a local event where small businesses show off their products to the public. A tent overhead shielded them from the beating sun as the women sat with a paper that read, “What would you like a bookshop to have? What kind of books do you read?” For hours they talked with members of the community, gaining insight on what their first order should consist of. “We were not afraid to ask questions – and still aren’t.” Blazo says. Thomas adds that “when you’re a teacher you’re also a learner.” She says that this skill has been helpful in growing their business as they’re constantly, “learning about other books and genres that [they] don’t know” by using the feedback from customers. After the long day spent listening to the advice of the community, they were left with a staggering list of books. “It took at least a week to put that order together.” Blazo says, shaking her head and chuckling softly as she remembers.

Up a small flight of stairs in the far left of the store, you are welcomed into the large children’s section. “I would say, we’re proud of so many things,” Thomas says, “but I am very proud of our children’s area in so many ways.” The section is filled with classics as well as new and uncommon selections for their younger audiences. “We don’t just want to give our customers what they’ve already read, we also want unique experiences for them and for younger kids,” Thomas continues, saying that they love hearing, “I’ve never seen that book” and “I like that you carry unique books” from their customers. Blazo also shares that in curating their expansive children’s section, teaching has helped them look at their store with “a critical eye.”

Helping a customer in the store, the two women take time to listen and inquire about each specific need they may have – as if they would love nothing more then to talk about books with them for hours. They smile, laugh, and share a piece of themselves with every sale. “The customer service piece is kind of like teaching because you find out what it is they need, like a student, and then you try to fill that need.” Blazo says. Thomas also shares that “the connection that you make with the kids, your students, and the families” has been one of the most impactful aspects of both teaching and running the bookshop. She finds joy in creating deep connections with customers and forming new relationships that would have otherwise been impossible.

Blazo and Thomas smile at each other as they talk about the road that they’ve taken from education to business owners. “We actually do feel like we’re making an impact,” Thomas says, “and that now we’re teaching in a whole new way.”