Totem Books launched online fundraisers to continue with program development for the Flint community. (Courtesy Photo)

FLINT, MI – Citing the need to fund several community programs, Flint’s only bookstore, Totem Books, recently launched an online fundraising campaign.

While Totem Books is involved in several charitable programs, including offering a section in their store of free books for “visitors who may not always have extra dollars in their budget to make a purchase,” Dean Yeotis, owner of Totem Books, says that the fundraiser is necessary to the continuation of the programs as he is the bookstore’s sole investor.

“We’ve never received a grant or any type of financial incentive or anything like that from anybody,” said Yeotis. “I believe that our community needs people to help, and that’s what I’m trying to do. It makes me feel good, and I feel like there’s a definite benefit to the community.”

After forming a partnership with Flint’s Mass Transit Authority and several nonprofit organizations, Totem Books installed five “bus stop reading benches,” which allow citizens access to free books while waiting on the arrival of their bus. If the fundraising goal is met, Yeotis says that $3,000 of the funds will go towards maintaining these benches for one year.

Additionally, Yeotis says that $6,000 of the funds being raised will be used to host several free events for the community, including open mic nights, book signings by local authors, weekly readings of children’s books, and more.

Totem Books is currently trying to launch a program that will provide local individuals with training in various trade skills, which Yeotis says will “equip them with the ability to assist Totem’s path to sustainability while providing them with a marketable skill.” $5,000 of the fundraising goal is earmarked to pilot the project.

Other commitments given include $5,000 to support local programs and organizations that Totem Books has partnered with, $6,000 for community outreach, and $10,000 to help offset operational costs.

Totem Books is the sole bookstore in Flint, a fact that Yeotis says makes the business and its charitable programs even more important.

“I think a good independent bookstore is vital to any community. I’ve always felt that it’s a quality of life issue,” Yeotis said. “Independent bookstores are the type of places where you can do everything from bringing very interesting creative people together to collaborate on concepts and ideas to an individual transforming their lives through the power of the right book to someone falling in love at the bookstore. These are the things that make independent bookstores special. As Flint continues to transform itself into more of a college town atmosphere, I think that a quality independent bookstore like Totem is an important piece of the puzzle.”

“Indie bookstores are crucial to have in any community. In so many cases they can act as a social hub, a meeting place, a provider of knowledge, or just a place to loiter and browse the aisles,” said Edith Frost, who donated to the campaign from Austin, Texas and says that she one day hopes to visit Totem Books. “Totem [Books] seems extra special as a community hub, bringing all kinds of goodness to the neighborhood and the whole city.”

In a 2015 interview with the Flint Journal, Yeotis said of his decision to purchase and gut a liquor store in the heart of Flint and turn it into a book store that sometimes “a man has to have brains enough to recognize the impossibility of a situation, yet heart enough to proceed anyway,” quoting author F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Asked to reflect on this, Yeotis said that “when I made that statement, I took that seriously because I recognized that there were a lot of logical pieces missing from the decision to open this business, and if my heart had not been essentially the decision maker I never would have made that decision. Do I regret making the decision? That is something that I am definitely not prepared to say yes to.”

“We’re never sure what’s going to happen in life as a result of our choices. All we can do is know that we chose the path with the heart and followed it to the best of our ability. After all is said and done, if you can look at yourself in the mirror and say that then I think that you can feel pretty good about yourself.”

The campaign, which has a goal of $35,000, is scheduled to end on Saturday, Sep. 21 and can be found here.

Andrew Roth is a reporter and photographer covering politics and policy in Michigan, as well technology, culture and their convergence. Andrew is a journalism student at Michigan State University and first...