Mr. Fera is more diligent and hard working than he is polished
and aggressive. He is not a Donald Trump type figure. You
don’t see him in line at Starbucks in the morning
dressed in a flashy suit working urgently on a Palm Pilot
while having a power meeting over a cell phone. He isn’t
like that. He is an unassuming and unpretentious man. His
posture suggests years of dedication and hard work. He dresses
humbly and drives an unremarkable Ford sedan. Sometimes
during the day he takes a break from work and loads his
dogs into the car to take them for a short drive. “It
breaks up their routine.” He told his daughter Mary.
Early in the morning, at sunrise, you see him unloading
papers for his store and organizing the inventory that changes
daily. When he has to see something up close or far away
(I can’t tell which) he squints his eyes and crinkles
up his nose to look under his glasses. He has white hair
and speaks quietly. All the years I have seen Mr. Fera,
I have seen him working.
Little Professor is distinguished from other
book stores by its mix of news stand products with books.
They have an enormous range of unusual periodicals and out
of town newspapers. During the last few years there is a
little café, actually named “The Little Café’”,
right next door to the bookstore with a door between the
two. In that café worked a beautiful girl with dark
brown eyes, Tony’s daughter, Mary.
When I was a kid we were broke but I always
managed to beg , borrow, earn or steal enough to buy a book
or magazine at Little Professor. Little Professor was exactly
3.4 miles from my house then. As I type this now, I can
lean back eight inches and see Little Professor Book Store
from where I am sitting at my desk. That is no coincidence.
I opened Bikesport here, right next to Little Professor
Bookstore, on purpose.
I had to walk to Little Professor when I was
a kid until I got a skateboard, then I would skate up there.
When I got a bike I would ride there. During the winter
my friend Raymond Schuckle and I would bundle our selves
up, lie to our parents that we were going to each other’s
house, and strike out on a trek across the barren ice cap
of Dearborn in January and just walk there.
We leafed through the issues of bike and skateboard
magazines, surfing and skiing magazines, military magazines
and the Atlases. I looked for books that taught you how
to identify birds and fish and airplanes. We tried to peek
at the cover of Playboy, but Mr. Fera nailed a board over
it. I looked for books about adventurers like Roald Amundsen,
first man to the South Pole.
Raymond Schuckle and I would pretend we were
Roald Amundsen and Ernest Shackleton on our trek home in
the dark and cold of a Michigan winter, staying out well
past our allotted curfew and walking through conditions
that, “Were so horrible our very survival, and the
survival of our men, was in constant question…”
As Amundsen wrote.
In Junior High School a Special Education
Phys. Ed teacher took an interest in me and he in turn,
got me interested in running. I began to get in shape. Now
I had two things: books and running.
So I would run to Little Professor Book Store.
From my house, if I did the perfect loop I mapped out, it
was about 10 kilometers round trip. I could do it in 35
minutes at my best. I didn’t stop at the bookstore
when I was out running. I would fly by as I ran down Michigan
Avenue, and glance inside. There was always something going
on in there. Lots of customers, most of the time Mr. Fera
would be in there too.
Little Professor Book Store grew and changed
with the times and with the city of Dearborn. There were
a lot of changes that swirled around the store. The Calvin
Theater was next door and we went to see movies there for
a dollar. In one of the biggest disasters in Dearborn history,
the Calvin Theater burned down. Somehow, the Little Professor
Bookstore right next door survived. Thankfully.
I didn’t just read the books I got from
The Little Professor, I memorized them. Something about
how my brain works, or doesn’t work, makes it feel
good to memorize vast amounts of odd facts and never let
them go. The deepest part of the Ocean is the Marinas Trench
at 36,204 feet. The wingspan of a Boeing 747 (400 version)
is 211 feet, 5 inches, not counting the winglets added for
better low speed flight characteristics. The scientific
name for the mako shark is Isurus Glaucus. For the spotted
Hyena it is Crocutta crocutta. You get the idea.
I have an enormous collection of books from
The Little Professor and a strange memory for the facts
in them. Often times during a particularly stressful day
I simply leave the bike store and walk over there. After
30 seconds leafing through a book or magazine I would quietly
be transported away. Just like when I was a little kid.
Did you know that a hummingbird’s resting heart rate
is over 200 beats per minute, and that a giraffe has the
highest blood pressure of any animal….?
The Little Professor Book Store wasn’t
just a store where you bought books, newspapers and magazines.
It was the window in the wall around my world that I used
to see the rest of the planet. Inside the bookstore I could
see over the horizon. Around the world. I could even see
through time forwards and backwards. The books I bought
at The Little Professor Book store showed me there was a
huge world out there. A fascinating, wonderful, beautiful,
dangerous, exciting world filled with incredible things,
animals and places. They had newspapers from London and
Italy. They had things from all over the world. It has remained
the most exciting place (to me) in all of Dearborn, and
a gateway- a portal- to the entire globe.
The books I got there changed my life. They
actually built my life.
At The Little Professor I bought the book
The Green Berets by Robin Moore, which lead to my decision
to join the Army. It was there that I bought The Seven Summits
By Dick Bass. Since reading that book I have climbed three
of the seven with one of the men in the book, Phil Ershler.
I bought a book there about desert survival, and have since
raced on foot across part of the Sahara Desert in North
Africa and in the Jordanian desert between Wadi Rum and
the ancient city of Petra. Sir Lawrence of Arabia lived
in Wadi Rum. I bought a book about him at Little Professor
too. I bought books about the Vietnam War at Little Professor.
One of them, an odd little book called The Five Fingers
By Gayle Rivers was about a team of elite commandos who
raced across Northern Vietnam on a top secret mission. In
2002 I raced across Northern Vietnam in the infamous Raid
Gauloises, the longest non-stop adventure race in history.
We encountered tribes of Montangard Indians in the Vietnamese
jungles who had never seen a white man. A cobra slithered
between my feet. A herd of army ants tried to colonize the
crack of my ass. And of course, I read of the great adventurers
and explorers like Thor Heyerdahl, Juan Ponce de Leon, Roald
Amundsen, Admiral Perry, Reinhold Messner, Tenzing Norgay,
Sir Edmund Hillary and Ernest Shackleton. After reading
too many books about polar explorers and then Tom Clancy’s
Hunt for Red October and Alistair MacLeans’ Ice Station
Zebra I booked myself onto a former Russian Navy minesweeper
and crossed the roughest ocean on earth, the Drake Passage,
and sailed to Antarctica to run a marathon on a frozen glacier
near a Chinese and Russian research base.
In 43 years I’ve lived the life of five
normal men twice my age. Like the back of a paperback on
the shelves of Little Professor my life has been, “A
pulse pounding thrill ride to every corner of the earth.”
and, “A story so compelling and unlikely you can’t
put it down.”
At least for me.
The Little Professor Book Store was such a
“valve” through which my life passed that when
I actually had to settle on something to do for a living
I decided I wanted a store like The Little Professor on
the very same street in the very same town.
So here we are.
And then there was Mr. Fera’s daughter.
Mary is one of those girls you never ask out.
She is too pretty to begin with and, because she is descended
from royalty here in Dearborn as an heiress to the Little
Professor thrown, she is a very real Princess. Dark hair,
freckles, root beer eyes and a figure that, well, let’s
put it this way: The board over the cover of the Playboy
magazines in Mr. Fera’s store didn’t make any
difference as long Mary was around.
Mary is to Little Professor Bookstore what
Paris Hilton is to the Hilton Hotel chain. People went in
the Little Café and Little Professor just to see
her, pretending to be there on other business. I know I
did. In restaurants and bars around Dearborn everyone knows
Mary. They come over to her table to say “Hi”.
They want other people to know they know her. They want
to be seen with her.
Somehow or other Mary and I actually did date
for a while last summer. It was quite predictably, euphoric.
Although talk about being under pressure… I was dating
Mr. Fera’s daughter. Incredible.
Like her father I learned Mary was tremendously
down to earth and unpretentious. One night we were out playing
darts at a little neighborhood bar on the corner down the
street from my store. There were two bars on either side
of the one we were in that had spent over a million dollars
renovating their interior and exterior, updating their drink
list, installing banks of flat panel monitors and enormous
sound systems and fancy lighting. But Mary wanted to go
to the little neighborhood bar that hasn’t changed
a thing since, well, I don’t think they’ve ever
changed anything. Mary said, “I like this little place.
It is so much fun. I love to come here. I don’t like
those other places…” She is an expert at darts.
They have one little dart board there, pretty worn out,
and Mary and I would go there to play darts and chat. She
usually beat me.
While I was off doing the things I read about
in the books from Little Professor Book Store and running
my own business next door the powers that be were changing
the city of Dearborn around us.
A Starbucks Coffee moved in. Restaurant after
restaurant moved in and spent millions to renovate their
décor and create a new excitement in downtown Dearborn.
Bars and “night spots” opened up. They built
new condominiums right across the street.
Some new businesses came in and a lot of old
businesses left. About three miles from here a Border’s
Books opened. They have a lot of books but no Mr. Fera and
no Mary. I didn’t grow up reading books from there.
The place is like an airplane hanger and I never recognize
anyone when I go in there. The staff looks like the crew
from the Starship Enterprise - it is as though they had
to hire a precise ratio of diversity to meet some kind of
Recently the city bought up parking lots and
remodeled the ones they already own and then announced there
is no more free parking starting January 1.
So things did change but The Little Professor
Book Store just kept right on going with no problems.
Over the past few years Mr. And Mrs. Fera
got older and their kids, Mary and the boys, grew up. Mr.
Fera actually had a couple of heart attacks. In his business
there is a lot of time for work but little time for exercise.
And the years had gone by. Over 40 years.
As many years as I have been alive.
Yesterday I went to Little Professor Book
store and it was gone. Closed. Forever.
There is a little sign on the door saying
all the things you would expect: That they had 40+ great
years. Thank you to all their customers. Because of Tony’s
There is a story on the front page of the
local paper with Mr. Fera’s picture. The headline
reads, “End of an Era.” I bought this paper
at the gas station. Normally I would have got it at Little
I looked through the window to see if any
books were left. There aren’t. The books are gone.
I don’t know where they went, and that worries me.
I depend on those books.
I walked back to my store and sat down in
my office, looked up on my book shelf and saw books I bought
there. I realized what I had lost. I had a brief pang of
panic. It felt like my window on the rest of the world has
just slammed shut.
I have lost an enormous part of what made
me the person I am. A living, breathing part of where I
came from. When this happens you wonder if this is the first
fold of a curtain closing on the final act your entire life.
It feels like the concrete foundation that you built your
life on has crumbled.
I hate that The Little Professor Book Store
is gone. I almost can’t really believe it. Surely
it will be back. It can’t go away.
It can’t just be… gone.
This is more than just the story of the little
retail store closing after the big store came to town. That
isn’t what happened here. At least not all of what
The debate about paid parking in Dearborn
was a protracted and heated one. The city had decided the
outcome before the debate began. Dearborn needs paid parking
to be economically viable, so they claim. Mr. Fera felt
people wouldn’t be willing to pay to park for a few
moments to come in and buy a newspaper. While The Little
Café may have been an effective means of making the
Little Professor Bookstore a destination where people would
likely spend more time, Mr. Fera, his wife and the entire
family have been very successful due to their long, hard
work and contribution to the community. Mr. Fera had two
heart attacks. He worked from before sun up to after sun
down almost every day. He has earned a rest for him and
his family, and he deserves it. He started with nothing
and built so much. He gave so much to every one of his customers.
This city owes the Fera family an enormous
debt of gratitude. Their contribution is so far-reaching
and pervasive within the culture of our city it is impossible
to measure. If you consider the profound effect that business
had on my life, how many other people probably have a similar
story? I wager quite a few.
For more than four decades The Little Professor
Bookstore was such a landmark and hub in Dearborn, people
simply took it for granted. In the last week, four customers
in our store have said, “I’m going over to Little
Professor and I’ll be right back.”
When people learn of the store being closed
they react with disbelief. It can’t be closed. It
was one of the cornerstone businesses in Dearborn. An icon,
a gathering place.
So now, where this hub of activity, knowledge
and community used to be, there is a nice little sign and
an empty building.
Although the store is gone the books that
were in it, and the people who ran it, have made a deep
and permanent effect on the lives of their customers: enlightening
them, inspiring them and enriching them.
The store may be closed, but those things
will never be gone.