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Best Independent Bookstore

If you’re a sucker for small — if, in your mind, a cozy bistro beats production-line dining, or an intimate cinema outcools a multiplex every time — then the Bookbeat is for you. With corporate chains gobbling up the book business like Monstro the whale in Pinocchio, there aren’t many independent shops left. Local merchants offering specialized selections of literature and magazines in an atmosphere of personal interaction continue to brave the waters. But only Bookbeat (26010 Greenfield, Oak Park) offers an intense focus on photography and visual art, Eros and Thanatos, feminism and the avant-garde.

Enter the store and immediately see signs of a very particular mind at work. The discounted books feature titles you’d forgotten you wanted and a few surprises newly disregarded by the straight and narrow. Then a locked glass case encloses all manner of fetishistic objects — from Mexican Day of the Dead statuettes to surreal totems and a mojo or two. These are just a hint of wild things to come, particularly if you thread your way through tightly packed aisles of what seem like all the hip, weird, sexy, daring, mind-bending books in the world and go straight to the back of the store.

There, in the tiny gallery curated by Bookbeat owner Cary Loren, browsers come upon an art experience like no other. Works are hung side-by-side, one above the other, so as to afford maximum exposure to the vision of the month. Loren has been responsible for exhibiting some devastating work in the past 16 years, introducing Detroiters to the likes of Jeffrey Silverthorne and Billy Name.

Though there aren’t any entertainers whining their latest songs and you’ll have to get your coffee a few doors down at the deli, the Bookbeat has enough stimulation to wrap you in its arms for hours on end.

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