New owner of Ann Arbor bookstore sees herself as a "lighthouse keeper" for a downtown fixture

Africa Schaumann, 29, acquired The Dawn Treader Book Shop in June 2022 after being its manager since 2018.
Shortly after Africa Schaumann started working at The Dawn Treader Book Shop in Ann Arbor as a part-time page, a drawer in the cabinet below the cash register broke. Store tradition was to jury-rig it back in place. Instead, Schaumann went to a hardware store and bought new tracks, fixing the drawer for good. 

"This store is held together by glue and duct tape," she says, laughing. "But that's kind of what you expect with a used bookstore." 

Schaumann, 29, is the new owner of The Dawn Treader, which has been a downtown Ann Arbor fixture for decades. She acquired the store in June 2022, but had previously been the store manager since late 2018. Previous owner William "Bill" Gillmore started the store in the late '70s as a marriage between his book bindery business and his love of science fiction and fantasy novels. 

"I very much feel like I am a steward of a thing that's its own organism," Schaumann says, "like a lighthouse keeper." 

Other than "one very unfortunate call center job," she has worked with books her entire career. 

Schaumann grew up in Ypsilanti and visited The Dawn Treader as a child with her father. She always imagined she would pursue a career in academia, following in the footsteps of her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, whom she counts among "lots of strong, brilliant women" in her family.
The Dawn Treader Book Shop owner Africa Schaumann.
Schaumann studied history at Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina, where she apprenticed in conservation at the school’s rare book room. Her mentor Alexandrea Pizza says Schaumann gravitated toward historical books and book repair. 

"Africa was super talented from the get-go," she says. 

Schaumann picked up book binding and repair so well that Pizza gave her access to the conservation lab outside of internship hours. Pizza soon found that she couldn’t get Schaumann to leave.

"She just became a part of my studio," Pizza says. "I'd have to kick her out at the end of the day." 

Both Pizza and Schaumann note that the world of used books and book conservation is predominantly white and male. Even adjacent fields with more women, such as library science, are mostly white. Schaumann, who is Black, noticed immediately that she was an outlier in her field. 

"Each facet of my identity puts me in a minority in the rare and antiquarian field," Schaumann says. She adds that being Black, queer, and a woman creates a "microcosm within a microcosm" in the niche field. 

"It's not necessarily that people have been rude or have treated me poorly," she says. "In fact, I would say especially the other used bookstore owners in Ann Arbor have been nothing but encouraging." 
The Dawn Treader Book Shop owner Africa Schaumann.
Schaumann says most of the other professionals she meets have been "ecstatic" to find a young person interested in used books and conservation.

"My mission, my goal, is to just be someone that can be pointed to as someone who is doing well in this field, who you would not expect," Schaumann says. 

Schaumann says The Dawn Treader presents the usual challenges associated with running a small business – the repairs, making ends meet, and maintaining a work/life balance. She says it can be hard to leave at the end of the day, knowing there is still work to be done. 

"I just love the store," she says. "This is my happy place." 

Schaumann enjoys sharing her love of books with customers, whether they are browsing for a new read or bringing in a stack of books to sell. 

"It's kind of like going to a shelter with a box of kittens," she says. "I'm pretty good at finding new homes for books." 

Schaumann prioritizes accessibility to books as well. 
The Dawn Treader Book Shop owner Africa Schaumann.
"I put a premium on empathy," she says. "I put a premium on that human element that doesn't just see a bottom line." 

Schaumann says she asks prospective employees if they have experience working with unhoused populations.

"I’ve been there," she says. "People have told me, 'I can't go anywhere, but I like coming here and sitting and reading for a while.'" 

She emphasizes that these values aren’t new to the store.

"The store always kind of becomes a reflection of the people working in it," she says. 

Schaumann says The Dawn Treader's previous manager, Corby Gillmore, valued the different perspective each employee brought to the store. Gillmore, whose father Bill owned the store, died suddenly in October 2018. Schaumann says any changes made to The Dawn Treader since then have continued in that spirit. 

"I've tried to carry that forward more than anything," she says. "This space is for you. It's for me. It's for all people who love reading."

Elinor Epperson is a freelance journalist based in Ypsilanti. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in journalism at Michigan State University, focusing on environmental, health, and science reporting.  

All photos by Doug Coombe.
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