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Janet Webster Jones worked for DPS for 41 years before launching Source Booksellers in Detroit

Posted at 5:08 PM, Feb 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-23 17:08:05-05

Janet Webster Jones, 83, said she has always been around books — even from a young age.

“We didn’t engage in a lot of TV, which we hardly had when I was growing up,” said Webster Jones. “My mother was a librarian for the Detroit Public Library, so we were always engaged to some degree with books and going to school.”

But the path that led her to owning Source Booksellers in Detroit started in her work as a teacher with Detroit Public Schools.

Photos courtesy Janet Webster Jones

“When I was coming along, there weren’t a lot of opportunities for African American people,” she said. “I sort of fell into teaching . . . and I like to tell people, I think President Obama writes about it in his book, that growing up was not just a straight path.”

Webster Jones worked for DPS for 41 years, taking on a number of different roles, including elementary school teacher, speech pathologist and administrator.

“It was because of opportunity that showed up, and I like to change around anyway, so I did,” she said.

And it was a trip overseas to study the history of ancient Egypt that would set her on a course toward selling a curated selection of non-fiction books.

“There were people that wanted to know, ‘well, what did you learn there?’” she said of her trip to Egypt. “I had books that substantiated a lot of the information and materials I was talking about, so people in the class said to me, ‘you have all these books, we don’t know how to find these books.’”

That’s when, she said, they encouraged her to bring some of the books to sell at an upcoming bazaar.

“I found that people wanted vendors to come to events that were being held, like fairs and bazaars; I just started taking books to fairs and bazaars and events where people were already set up,” she said.

Webster Jones said she continued selling at fairs and bazaars while teaching until she retired and another opportunity presented itself.

She opened up a book shop in Detroit in the Spiral Collective, which was a shared space with three other women-owned businesses. She would stay there for 10 years before settling into her current storefront right across the street on Cass Avenue in 2013.

Photos courtesy Janet Webster Jones

“We’ve been selling books in Detroit for 31 years now,” said Webster Jones.

Photos courtesy Janet Webster Jones

Source Booksellers centers around five key categories: history and culture; health and well-being; books by and about women; metaphysical, spiritual and new age; and the arts.

“Categories have equal importance in my eye. And at different times, different ones take on more and more interest,” she said.

Photos courtesy Janet Webster Jones

Webster Jones said they’ve always had a sense of the books that would reflect the many different groups who came in and moved out of the city.

“Everybody that we choose, we carry carefully. We look at the title . . . the quality of the book, the interest of the book across all five of those categories,” she said.

With the pandemic, Source Booksellers has gone virtual, helping expand their presence to customers around the globe.

“Now that we’re online, people are able to reach us from many different places,” she said. “In fact, I have a book to send to Germany right now.”

Photos courtesy Janet Webster Jones

While the niche is non-fiction, Webster Jones said they have nothing against fiction, offering a selection of prize-winning novels, poetry and science fiction. They are also responsive to customer requests.

You can view their selection online here.

Webster Jones said they are allowing in-store shopping on a very limited basis due to COVID-19 precautions.

Source Booksellers
4240 Cass Ave, #105
Detroit
(313) 832-1155