PHOTOS BY // MICHAEL GLEASON PHOTOGRAPHY
According to Dean Yeotis, “Flint aspires to be a college town, so why not add to it?” Dean opened Totem Books in Flint in 2015. When we think of the word totem, we identify it as a part of Native American culture, as in “totem pole.” According to Merrimack- Webster.com, “A totem can be a spiritual symbol representing a group of people, a particular quality or concept, or object that is highly respected.” In the case of Totem Books, that respected object is a book. Dean believed that Flint did not need another bar or restaurant, especially since Totem Books is located on W. Court Street across from the iconic White Horse Tavern. However, he did believe “in the power of books to change lives and improve literacy. “
Dean Yeotis, 58, is the son of well-known retired judge Thomas Yeotis, 89, who inspired Dean to become a lawyer. Dean is a product of the Flint schools, graduating from Southwestern in 1979; he also graduated from Mott Community College and then MSU in 1983. Having finished law school at the University of Toledo, Dean has been practicing employment law in Flint for over 30 years.
Currently, Totem has a basement full of books, as well as another warehouse full and a second warehouse loaded with vinyl records. Dean has owned Found Sound Record Store in Ferndale for over eight years. Totem has a large collection of used and some new books, music (vinyl records, CDs, cassettes), comics and posters. Music types include rock, jazz, blues, gospel, classical, comedy and spoken word. While browsing through the vinyl section, I discovered the unusual album, “The Speeches of Spiro Agnew.” The store buys any of the above-mentioned items, as Dean feels competent to place a value on rare and antique books and vinyl records. When starting Totem, he received support from students at Kettering as well as Kettering’s president, Robert McMahan. When reading, Dean enjoys topics such as humanistic psychology, the metaphysical and philosophy.
“Totem Books is a state of mind that includes many things,” Dean says. “Books, music, entertainment, art, food and community.” Musically, Totem has hosted Melvin Davis who played with Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder; Mr. B, international pianist from Ann Arbor; and drag Queen shows, one of which I recently attended. They also host Totem Talks, booking Lawrence Gustin, local historian and former editor at the Flint Journal; U of M-Flint teacher and poet Jan Worth-Nelson; noted Flint historian and writer Kim Crawford; poetry and spoken word readings; and Drag Queen Bingo and Shows (usually in front of a sold-out crowd). Totem also offers art sales, board game playing and Kids Story Time and Krafts on most Saturdays, because as Dean says, “Kids don’t realize what they are missing and need to be steered in the right direction by adults.” On that note, Totem has also hosted Witches Tea of Flint, complete with astrology chats and tarot card readings. They have something for everyone. Totem Books is not your Barnes & Noble type of bookstore.
Food at Totem is capably handled by Bridgette McCrory, a graduate of chef school at the Art Institute of Novi. She emphasizes healthy soups, salads and sandwiches, all fresh. A visitor can enjoy one of many coffee drinks, Italian sodas, and both regular and bubble tea. Recently Totem added Uber Eats to deliver food to your door. Totem Books is managed by Carlos Avila with Ty Bailey as associate manager and Cassandra Cleveland performs hostess duties on special occasions. A regular customer and conversationalist is Dean’s father, Judge Tom Yeotis. He appeared during my interview with Dean, and at 89 has not lost a step intellectually. The judge quoted an old Native American proverb, “Dean is leaving tracks for others to follow.”
In closing, Dean quotes Charlie “Tremendous” Jones, author and motivational speaker. “You are the same person you are in five years, except for the people you meet and the books you read.” Totem Books is located at 620 W. Court Street, just west of downtown Flint. They can be reached at 810-407- 6402, on Instagram, Facebook or at Totembooksflint.com. They are open Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visit them and see the murals on all sides of the building, part of the Flint Public Arts Project directed by Joe Schipani.