Interview with Maia Asshaq | bookshop owner & publisher | Detroit
photographs by Ali Lapetina, writing and interview by Floyd
DittoDitto--a bookshop located in Corktown, Detroit--is nestled between a storied record store and a motorcycle machine shop just off Michigan Avenue. I stopped through the space this past summer with my friend to see how the move-in was progressing. Maia Asshaq, the owner, was trying to figure out what to do with the alleyway adjacent to her building. She started DittoDitto a few years back as a small publishing house with her friend Andrea Farhat. This past year, Maia sought out to realize the concept as a storefront.
In June, the shop was empty and still resembled the apartment of its previous life. Ditto Ditto opened a month later, yet the feeling of a lived in space still lingers on. The plants and hodgepodge of furniture make you feel less that you've stepped into a bookshop than the living room of an eclectic novelist. DittoDitto is not a place where you go searching for the right book, but rather where the right book finds you.
The interior arrangement of the shop is always evolving and shifting, along with the circulation of books. One of the latest additions was a Floyd Shelf for the shop. We sat down with Maia to discuss her work, the inspiration behind DittoDitto, and where she discovers her best finds.
Floyd: Where did the idea of the bookstore come from?
Maia: Over the past few years I've been really interested in the distribution of independently published books, I wanted to help promote the work of these publishers and also provide a space where their books could live alongside more well-known writers, artists, etc. It seemed like a bookshop would be the best way to do this. Also, I had spent the past few years doing almost what I wanted, like running museum shops, but being somewhat limited in terms of what I could order, so by having my own shop I have the freedom (and someday the financial flexibility) to try out different things.
Tell us about the space.
I wasn't really looking for a space, but a friend of mine owns the record shop next door to DittoDitto and mentioned that the space next door (formerly a small apartment) was available. So I hounded his landlord and made him promise that he wouldn't show the space to anyone else. I really like being next door to Hello Records, and I'm pretty familiar with the neighborhood, so it seemed like a great fit. Also, it still feels very much like a home and I really like the level of comfort that comes along with that.
How do you curate and select books for your shop?
It's really an ongoing process. I have a focus on literary and visual (modern & contemporary) art books, so I just try to find books that fit well within that frame. I also carry both new and used books. With used books it's a bit harder because it depends so much on what people bring to me or what I come across at estate sales, thrift stores, or whatever.
What's your favorite book in the store?
Right now it's a book called The Curse of the Drawn-In Infield, a photo book by Carl Schurer with In Camera Press. In Camera was a Detroit based press that was around in the 80's and maybe a little bit into the 90's. Anyway, this book was from 1984 and features three series of photos, all black & white. The layout is really simple and elegant and it's aged beautifully.
Where do you find your inspiration from?
It changes all of the time, I work regularly with a small group of artists/writers in Detroit that offer a real day-to-day inspiration -- but as far as well known artists, I'm a big fan of an artist collective called Slavs & Tatars, they're part artists, part historians, and they also happen to make really beautiful books. I've also been really into Halim El-Dabh lately, he's an Egyptian American composer & performer.
Do you have a favorite spot to find interesting books?
I have a few distributors I really like working with. I also organize the Detroit Art Book Fair where I get to meet lots of great independent publishers. I've also met a few really great book collectors in the City since opening up the storefront. Also, Instagram has turned out to be this really amazing (and endless) resource for books. So many weirdo book collectors and small publishers use it!
Is there a rare book you've been on the search for but haven't been able to find?
I never really try to find rare books, it happens sometimes but I don't ever know what to do with them (haha). I like books that I won't feel sad about spilling coffee on or folding the pages.
Where's your favorite place to read in Detroit?
I have a few! If it's early morning, I really love reading at Astro because it's pretty busy, but most people are usually getting a coffee before work, so there's ample table space and really nice light. I also really like reading at Trinosophes. There are so many great plants there and the music is always really lovely and not over-powering. I also used to go to Donovan's a lot to read when I lived in Southwest.
What other cities would you like to live in?
I have fantasies of spending some extended time in Paris and I like toying with the idea of Los Angeles – Paris because it's Paris and Los Angeles because of the weather, museums, and the plants.
Do you like your Floyd Shelf? How does it fit into the shop?
DUH! It's so great, all of the furniture in the shop is so special to me. Maybe that sounds lame, but it's true. It all came from really special people or places, so The Floyd Shelf fits in really well. It's perfect as a bookshelf and the wall space that it lives on was such a perfect spot, so lonely before it met Floyd!
Advice for anyone looking to open up their own bookstore?
I'm not sure I have a good answer for this one, but with my shop I've tried to build it up slowly... that way I have time to really think about any changes before I make them. The added time also means less pressure to do everything at once.
DittoDitto is located at 1548 Trumbull Street, Detroit