Karl Pohrt: A Remembrance

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ABA CEO Oren Teicher pays tribute to former Board member Karl Pohrt, the founder and owner of Shaman Drum Bookshop in Ann Arbor, Michigan, till its closure after 29 years, in June 2009. Pohrt died on Wednesday, July 10, of cancer at age 65.

Karl Pohrt was one of a kind.

Though he was the most unassuming person you’d ever meet — and spoke very softly — Karl had an enormous impact on a generation of booksellers and greatly influenced much of what today’s 21st century bookstores are all about.

Karl served with distinction as a member of the ABA Board of Directors during a time of much angst in our business. But he was always the steadiest of voices in making the case on behalf of indie bookstores.

Karl started talking about localism before we even knew what the term meant. He pioneered efforts in Ann Arbor to get people to pay attention to their downtowns and to generate community support for locally owned businesses, initiatives that have been emulated nationwide. Karl was also one of the first to begin talking about how indie businesses should cooperate and work together.

Again, long before others, Karl was in the leadership of thinking about how booksellers ought to be reinventing our business model. While serving on the ABA Board, he took it upon himself to become immersed in the buying cooperatives that existed in the music industry, and he helped lay the groundwork for so many of the new business models that are now being put into place in the book industry.

In addition to all of the above, Karl was a consummate gentleman. He cared deeply for the people who worked with him at Shaman Drum, and for the hundreds of booksellers across the country whom he befriended. Despite his own clearly held opinions about virtually everything, on the ABA Board Karl was always bridging gaps between different points of views and working toward building consensus.

Karl was extraordinarily well read, and he could talk knowledgeably and intelligently about a wide range of books. He was also an avid movie fan, and knew as much about films as he did about books. After not seeing him for a few months, every conversation with Karl started with a recitation of recently seen films. His taste in films did not compute with his discerning view of literature — he seemed to love lousy movies!

Everyone connected to indie bookselling was saddened when Shaman Drum closed, but Karl kept in touch and remained an avid proponent for independent bookstores. The fact that there are new indie stores in Ann Arbor today is a fine tribute to what Karl represented.

All of us will miss him a great deal.  —Oren Teicher, ABA Chief Executive Officer

A memorial service was held at the Episcopal Church of The Incarnation on Sunday, July 14. In lieu of flowers, Pohrt's family has suggested that donations be made in his memory to the Episcopal Church of The Incarnation, 3257 Lohr Rd., Ann Arbor, MI 48108 or the Children's Literacy Network, 1954 S. Industrial Hwy., Suite D, Ann Arbor, MI 48104.