Survival of the Fittest: Michigan News Agency

When you open the door, jingle the bell, and walk into Michigan News Agency on 308 West Michigan Ave. in Kalamazoo, you feel like the most important person in the world. And to owner Dean Hauck, you -- the customer -- are most important.

She calls out to you, her face lighting up as if she has been waiting all day just to see you. If you have been here more than once, chances are Hauck greets you by name.

If you ask about a magazine, even if it is about Chinese photography, chances are she has an issue already set aside for you.

If you walk in with your dog, chances are she is already at a trot -- bounding down the stairs from her office on the second floor, where she sees all and knows all with a camera lens overlooking all -- to give special tussles and nuzzles to your pup.

"This is how people in Kalamazoo love each other," she says, gesturing out into the Michigan News Agency space. It is Kalamazoo, Hauck says, that has kept the store alive and well these many years.

Michigan News Agency first opened its doors in 1947, and that door bell has been jingling ever since. The newsstand-bookstore is one of Kalamazoo's oldest local business still open and thriving today.

Hauck's recipe for success is to focus on community. She is a strong believer in the buy-local movement. She is quick to make a comparison between the benefits of buying a book at Michigan News, a local bookstore, and buying from an online global bookstore such as

Citing figures from The Andersonville Study and others by the Civic Economics Group, Hauck says, "For every $100 a consumer spends, local businesses give back $68 to their local economy, while chain stores give back only $43."

Hauck belongs to the Great Lakes Area Independent Booksellers Association, an organization that supports independent booksellers in the Great Lakes area. Independent booksellers who belong to the association have sponsored more than 2,000 author appearances in 2010, donated more than $50,000 to local community organizations, employed approximately 1,600 people, and paid more than $6 million in sales taxes that go toward schools, social services and public agencies in local communities.

"Amazon," Hauck points out, "contributes zero to local communities."

Another reason for the Michigan News Agency's long business life is the careful record Hauck keeps of customer's likes and dislikes. Ask once, and your tastes will end up on an index card, filed away into an impressive card catalog on the wall behind the register.

Hauck has nothing against computers. She has one upstairs to submit orders. Here on the main floor, however, she abandoned the machines and stuck with what she knows -- hand-scribbled notes on cards about what each customer prefers. Hauck also keeps careful records of what area book clubs are reading, so that she can have stacks of the books ready.

Michigan News Agency stocks only eight newspapers now, but if you want something she doesn't have, Hauck will get it for you. Meanwhile, browse the 6,500 magazine titles or check the 17,000 paperback book titles. Local art news is clipped and pinned to the bulletin board. Keep browsing. No hurry. You'll find something.

Browsing is encouraged. Books in hand are encouraged. Standing around and loitering and reading in the aisle or seated on the floor is encouraged.

More recently, attending authors' readings is also encouraged. As newspapers move from print to online, Michigan News has less of the feel of a newsstand, and more that of a local bookstore. In 2010, Hauck started to offer readings, serving wine and cheese and autographed books, and she also participates in Art Hops, exhibiting artwork by local artists. Shelves are set aside for autographed books by local authors and 2011 calendars illustrated by local artists are on display.

"The only reason we stay successful," she says, "is our connection to the community. We're here because people want us to be."

Wherever there is a literary event, Hauck is there -- at area libraries, at the Gwen Frostic Reading Series, at individual author's readings. Being there, everywhere, is just an extension of Michigan News Agency for Hauck, as she brings her business to the community she loves.

Hauck often acts as a conduit between customers and authors, building connections. She steals private moments when the newsstand is running smoothly in the care of the area college students she's hired. With all in order, she goes upstairs where her husband might be working on the business books, and where Dante the Cat awaits her.

"I am She Who Comes. That's my name in Cat," Hauck says, snuggling the big white tom against her. "I am owned by Dante."

Sitting down to process orders, Hauck leans into the glowing screen, and Dante weaves around her ankles, purring in approval.

Michigan News Agency came to Hauck through the loving hands of "Pop," her stepfather, Vincent Malmstrom. She still recalls coming into the newsstand that first time, being courted along with her sister and mother, the business a large part of that family-sized courtship. There was a Coke machine, a popcorn machine, and a freezer for ice cream bars. All that and all things in print, and Dean had found heaven.

A University of Michigan graduate majoring in English (with minors in natural science and history), Hauck taught English for many years, at times as a second language. She met and married Richard Hauck and raised two daughters. When the girls had grown and were ready to leave the nest, blink of an eye, Hauck was back at Michigan News Agency. When Pop wasn't around to run it anymore, Hauck took over.

"I won't ever retire," she says without looking up from the screen. "We all need a mission, a sense of place, a home. We all want to be a part of a community."

Zinta Aistars is a freelance writer from Portage and editor of literary ezine, The Smoking Poet.

Photos by Erik Holladay

The Michigan News Agency, located at 308 Michigan Avenue in downtown Kalamazoo, boasts 62 years of service to the community.

Owner of the Michigan News Agency Dean Hauck.

The Michigan News Agency offers a huge selection of paperback books.

The store offers 6,500 titles of magazines from around the world.
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