The Bibliophile: Janet Webster Jones, Source Booksellers owner

The People Issue

The People Issue: Janet Webster Jones, Source Booksellers owner
Photo by Jacob Lewkow.

When she was a little girl, Janet Webster Jones loved taking trips to her neighborhood's Detroit Public Library branch. Her mother was a librarian, and so a deep love of books and learning was cultivated early in life.

"I came up at a time when television wasn't your main source of information," she says. "In our neighborhood on the near west side, we had a wonderful library branch that has since been torn down by an emergency manager. It was a center of a lot of the life and culture in that part of the city. We used the library all of the time. We were there every week. So, it's always been part of my life."

Jones is a lifelong Detroiter, and though she left the state to attend college, she returned with a degree, and in 1959 started a job at Detroit Public Schools. During her 40-plus-year career, she served as a teacher, a speech pathologist, a consultant, an administrator, and a staff developer — and despite the many problems that currently plague the school system, she says her experience was overwhelmingly positive.

"While I was in Detroit schools we had a wonderful opportunity to serve Detroit in so many ways that were noticed by the educational communities at large and across the country," Jones says. "We were doing wonderful work."

While she's been retired from that gig for quite some time, she's found a way to continue serving and educating Detroiters. She's the owner of Source Booksellers on Cass Avenue in Midtown, and though she recently celebrated her 80th birthday, she actively runs the store.

Jones has been in business since 1989 when she started vending at local events, but it was years before she started a brick-and-mortar operation. In 2002, Source opened inside Spiral Collective, a shared space outlet on Cass Avenue, where she worked alongside fellow local retailers Tulani Rose and Dell Pryor Gallery. Then, in 2013 she got the chance to move to a stand-alone location in a new strip across the street. Jones seized the opportunity and her business has continued to grow.

As a small, independently owned bookstore, it might seem impossible for Source to compete with companies like Amazon that sell deeply discounted texts that will arrive at your doorstep in two days. But Jones has managed to make the store a destination, a place where you can expect to find a highly curated selection of hardcovers as well as a friendly face eager to point you in the right direction.

In order to carve out her little slice of the market, Jones focuses on stocking nonfiction books on a tightly defined cadre of subjects. You'll find texts on history and culture, health and well-being, metaphysics and spirituality, and books by and about women. She also carries tomes related to Detroit as well as a small selection of children's books.

Jones has also found ways to bring customers into the shop, whether they're in the market for a new read or not. Each week the store hosts any number of events, including a free Saturday morning exercise class, author talks, poetry readings, and community conversations. The events help to make Source the type of cultural hub that first sparked Jones' love for her local library.

"We try to have books that will be of interest to and will serve the community," Jones says. "And when I say community I mean anyone who has the courage to come on in."

Back to the People Issue.

About The Author

Alysa Zavala-Offman

Alysa Zavala-Offman is the managing editor of Detroit Metro Times. She lives in the downriver city of Wyandotte with her husband, toddler, mutt, and two orange cats.
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