Source Booksellers Holds Things Down in the Local Literary World  

Source Booksellers’ Owner Janet Webster-Jones.

Photo by Sherri Kolade




Inside the quaint and cozy Black-owned bookstore, Source Booksellers, one could get lost in the hundreds upon hundreds of literary delights that owner Janet Webster-Jones carefully handpicks with the help of others including her daughter, Alyson Jones Turner.

“We pay a lot of attention to what books we buy,” she said of her highly curated selection.

Located at 4240 Cass Ave., Source Booksellers has been all but an institution in the city for people of all walks of life coming to find, and buy, books – but stay for the community of bibliophiles.

Source Booksellers offers a unique niche of non-fiction books.

The sharp-tongued and quick-witted 84-year-old bookstore owner (who doesn’t look a day over 75) said she was at first reluctant to begin this journey and it took “courage” and “opportunity.”

“It didn’t start like this — I didn’t have a dream,” she told The Michigan Chronicle inside her bookstore on a warm, sunny Monday morning in late June. “We’re an established business and we continue to grow and change.”

Webster-Jones sells everything from tea and shea butter to herbal incense and “Michigan” bags along with the plentiful books. When customers came inside the bustling establishment, Webster-Jones gives them her undivided attention each time. She helps those that inquire about various books, provides recommendations for others and also gives those who purchase books chocolate treats.

“Coming in person is much greater than an [online] buy-sell situation,” she said, adding that while she prefers in-person camaraderie and relationship-building, the pandemic forced her hand to “quickly pivot” to online sales.

The business purposely chose to not go the online route beforehand but coming out on the other side, she has the best of both worlds.

“That really kept us going,” she said of the over year-long experience. “The online store generated more {customers]. The pandemic changed everything [and] caused a lot of new ways of … thinking new action plans.”

She added that she chose not to close the business, but it wasn’t always easy.

“We started to scramble and find out how we were going to keep going,” she said. “Fortunately, at the time I paid up all our outstanding bills.”


Webster-Jones conversed in an oversized chair with shelves of books behind her and a table of books before her including “Easy Detroit Outdoors” by Amy Eckert and “Why Civil Resistance Works” by Chenoweth and Stephan.

“They’re all my favorites,” she said of all the books that surround her.

Nearby, large cardboard posters had quotes like “Buy books from people who want to sell books not colonize the moon” and “Don’t let indie bookstores become a work of fiction” show where she stands when it comes to small bookstores.

Her bookstore, however, is small by no means, and she keeps things going by keeping it as real and uncut as she is.

“That is all there is anyway — everything else is a pretense,” she said.

Sporting a Source Booksellers shirt, Webster-Jones said that her business has grown and the underlying factor of it all is filling a need by serving the community.

“Who is the community? Anybody who has the courage to walk through that door,” she said. “It takes energy to decide on something. The energy that is around this kind of business and we generate from this business [and energy we receive from this business] makes this business happen,” she said. “And that is like a book.”

She added that it takes courage to write a book, and she encourages up-and-coming authors to write.

As a prolific reader, Webster-Jones grew up reading books about Black people and her community and beyond.

“When I grew up in my home, they would talk about people who stood up for the race,” she said, adding that she grew up in Detroit’s old westside now called the Dead Zone where the local freeways (I-94, I-96, and the Lodge) bulldozed through once-established neighborhoods.

“We were kicked out,” she said, adding that she was born in 1937 and she was but a child when in 1943 an uprising occurred in the city.

She picked out a book, “Uprising of 1943 –Run Home If You Don’t Want to Be Killed” that described the race riot on June 20-22.

“It started on my birthday,” she said of the uprising.

Then two more customers come inside the store and she greets them as her store phone rings. She puts her glasses up over her blue surgical mask and helps someone on the line look up a book.

One of the customers, who was helped by Webster-Jones, then sat in an oversized yellow chair by the front door told The Michigan Chronicle that “it’s nice to see bookstores” still around.

Webster-Jones, whose smile comes easy, said that her bookstore, like many others, curates inventory and so much more.

“We respond to the community,” she said.

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