Alumna opens indie bookstore in Detroit’s East English Village neighborhood
Opening Next Chapter Books in Detroit is a longtime dream finally coming true for HFC alumna Sarah Williams and her husband of 28 years, Jay.
The store’s name also represents the couple, who have three daughters (Emma, Taylor, and Caroline), moving on to the next chapter in their lives. Jay, who worked in automotive sales for nearly 24 years, left his job to pursue this dream.
“This is something Jay and I talked about through the years. It didn’t seem possible when we were raising a family,” said Sarah.
In 2022, the couple, who lives in Redford but are making plans to move to Detroit, began taking the necessary steps to make their dream a reality. They visited several independent bookstores, spoke to the owners, explored neighborhoods and communities, and brainstormed ideas for their business model.
“We decided to take a leap of faith and open it in the city,” said Sarah. “Our hearts are in Detroit, which is where we spend the majority of our time. We also got our degrees in Detroit (at Wayne State University).”
Building a home away from home
They reached out to the E. Warren Development Corp in Detroit and asked if there was a need for a bookstore in the E. Warren Corridor. The residents wanted a bookstore, according to a survey taken by EWDC executive director Joe Rashid.
During the 2022 holiday season, the couple opened Next Chapter Books, a temporary new and secondhand bookstore in Detroit’s historic Alger Theater.
“The Alger is a beloved landmark in the community,” said Jay. “It’s been a great place because people know it and could easily identify where we’re located.”
The bookstore proved to be so popular, the couple extended their time at the Alger through April. During those months, they set out to find a permanent location where Next Chapter could thrive within the community. They worked to get to know neighbors and small business owners outside the bookstore by attending neighborhood association meetings and community mixers. With the help of the EWDC, they found an empty building to transform into the permanent home of Next Chapter on E. Warren Street in Detroit’s East English Village.
They plan to open during the summer.
“Customers let us know in addition to shopping for books, they would like to have a space for gathering, working remotely, meeting friends, having coffee,” said Jay. “We’re eager to grow into offering a third space, away from home and work. We hope our bookstore fosters a love for reading that reflects and creates a community.”
A fitting location
Next Chapter will sell new and gently used books across all genres – contemporary fiction, social justice, biographies, cookbooks, history, politics, science-fiction and fantasy, mystery-thriller, poetry, young adult, and children’s books. The second-hand books are generally books that have been published in the last 20-25 years, along with some classics. The bookstore will also feature children’s story time, author talks and signings, poetry readings, book club meetings, and possibly live music.
“The new and used model will increase affordability around book ownership,” said Sarah. “There is a need for more bookstores on the East side. There is a lovely part-time cooperative bookstore in Hamtramck, but we will be the only full-time independent bookstore in the city from Woodward Avenue to the Grosse Pointes.”
The location also couldn’t be more fitting for Sarah. It holds a lot of sentimental value.
“I lived in Morningside when I was a young child. I have such great memories,” she recalled. “I remember walking with my mother to the Jefferson branch of the Detroit Public Library for children’s story time. We’d stop at the Wine Basket to get some groceries. My older brothers and I walked to Peace Lutheran School. So many wonderful memories are here.”
Sarah continued: “The community has been welcoming to us. It’s great to be back. I enjoy building relationships with our neighbors and fellow businesses in the community. East Warren has given us a wonderful reception. We’re excited to grow and be a part of this neighborhood.”
Hatch Detroit finalist
Recently, Next Chapter was one of the top four finalists in the Hatch Detroit contest, a small business competition run by TechTown, Detroit’s entrepreneurship hub.
“Being in the final four was an incredible opportunity, an honor, and a great learning experience for us,” said Sarah. “Ours was the youngest business in the final four.”
The Hatch Detroit Contest winning business was awarded $100,000.
“Though we didn’t win, we’re very thankful because the contest helped raise our visibility,” said Jay. “More people learned about the store, which I hope will expand our audience and potential funding connections.”
Added Sarah: “We also learned Hatch will support the finalists. They’re eager to help all of us succeed.”
HFC English and journalism instructor Dr. Peter Kim, Sarah’s mentor, is proud of his former student.
“I am elated with Sarah and Jay turning their dream into reality and making such an important and positive impact in the community with Next Chapter Books,” said Kim. “Making it to the Hatch final four shows how their vision is connecting with people and how much books are still so meaningful – even in this digital age.”
HFC introduced Sarah to journalism
Sarah came to HFC when her youngest daughter, Caroline, began high school at the Henry Ford Academy in Dearborn.
“After years of being CEO of our household, I was finally able to pursue my education,” recalled Sarah. “It made sense for Caroline and me to commute together, which led me to HFC, which I had heard so many good things about. The College offered an environment with a diverse student body, which I really appreciated.”
At HFC, Sarah studied liberal arts, taking Detroit history and journalism classes with Kim, choir classes with Kevin Dewey, and art classes with Steve Glazer.
Kim sparked her interest in journalism. Sarah was a writer for The Mirror News, HFC’s student-run newspaper, and eventually became its creative editor. She later transferred to Wayne State, where she earned her bachelor's degree in print and online journalism. In 2019, she won an Excellence in Journalism Award from the Society of Professional Journalists Detroit Chapter for her story about the Michigan Central Train Depot for The Mirror News. She’s gone on to win an Excellence in Journalism Award from SPJ Detroit every year since.
“I've been an avid reader since I was a small child, but during my time at HFC, I also fell in love with storytelling,” she said. “While taking journalism and honors classes with Dr. Kim and being part of The Mirror News team, I was introduced to the amazing work of many of Detroit's creatives and community-focused organizations. I was excited to learn that a journalism career is a continual classroom that offers me the opportunity to be invited into spaces I wouldn't otherwise see and to meet people doing what matters most to them. For me, that's fostering relationships with people around stories.”
For the past four years, Sarah’s byline has appeared in community-focused publications that include Model D Media, Planet Detroit, The Detroit Jewish News, Detour Detroit, and other media outlets. Sarah will continue to write while running Next Chapter because there will always be a story to read, tell, and discuss.
“Many of the connections I've made while writing locally are informing our book curation now – wonderful writers and poets who are on our shelves at Next Chapter,” explained Sarah. “As a journalist, I work to help readers learn about the beautiful ways individuals and organizations are investing in their communities and the very real challenges these communities face. Jay and I have the same heart for bookselling. In our store, we are committed to offering a diverse selection of new and secondhand titles highlighting the work of Detroit and Michigan writers and centering the voices and experiences of authors historically underrepresented in literature.”
You can support Next Chapter Books by shopping online at https://www.nextchapterbkstore.com/.
Related: See the 2019 story about Sarah Williams winning the SPJ Excellence in Journalism Award