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North Hills Monthly

Independent Bookstores Experiencing a Renaissance

Sep 30, 2018 05:55PM ● By Kathleen Ganster

Riverstone Books

There may not be as many as in the past, but independent bookstores are alive and well in the Pittsburgh area. A few new ones have popped up, and others have long histories, but despite several of the big players closing their doors, the local shops are dedicated to providing not only books, but programs for their customers.

Riverstone Books is celebrating its one-year anniversary this October at McCandless Crossing. Owner Barbara Jeremiah felt that the North Hills area needed a bookstore.

“The closure of the Borders on McKnight Road left a gaping hole in the book-loving community, and I felt the time was right to bring a bookstore back to our neighborhood,” she said. 

In addition to the obvious selling of books, small bookstores bring other services to the community.

“Independent bookstores have been returning all over the country as readers seek the experience of discovering a new author or talking with knowledgeable booksellers about their latest recommendations,” Jeremiah said.

Riverstone Books hosts numerous special events each month including author talks and signings, book clubs and weekly story times for children. The bookstore also collaborates with local partners; they hosted a whiskey tasting showcasing Wigle Whiskey’s book about the Whiskey Rebellion, and a cider and food tasting with the authors of a new cider cookbook for Threadbare Cider. 

As the largest full-service, independent bookstore in Pittsburgh, Jeremiah said that they not only offer a wealth of books including a local ‘Pittsburgh Pages’ area where there are books specific to western Pennsylvania by local authors and stories about Pittsburgh legends, but they also carry gift items such as puzzles, candles, educational toys and games. They can also special-order books that aren’t in stock. 

“Most importantly, we have booksellers who live in our community, love books and are delighted to help our customers find exactly what they are looking for,” Jeremiah said.

The Penguin Bookshop has been in Sewickley since 1929, though it has been located in various storefronts over the years, according to current owner Susan Hans O’Connor. 

“I bought the shop in 2014 after a long career in book publishing and moved it to its current location at 417 Beaver Street,” she said. O’Connor worked in the editorial department at Viking Penguin and is amused by her transition to another penguin-related property. 

“Penguins again!” she laughed, adding that she is excited to hold the esteemed Penguin Bookshop in her loving hands.

Its nearly 90-year history is only one of the things that makes the Penguin special. “Our long history, along with our highly and carefully curated selection of new books, our charming children’s department complete with a ‘reading tree,’ and our stellar events with high profile authors—including Stephen King in 2016—set us apart,” Hans O’Connor said. 

Supporting independent bookstores also helps support the local economy.

“Shopping locally is an investment in our communities; it keeps our dollars here,” said Hans O’Connor. “Shopping locally increases our tax base, increases local employment opportunities, and contributes to the uniqueness and quality of life of our communities."

Penguin Bookshop also hosts author events—approximately 50 a year—a weekly children’s story time, and special days such as Independent Bookstore Day and Small Business Saturday. 

“Every day we are open, we are committed to outstanding customer service and creating an interesting and inviting atmosphere where you can find a book that maybe you weren’t even looking for but end up loving!” Hans O’Connor said.

Though it doesn’t have quite as long a history as Penguin, Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont has been a local institution for nearly three decades. Tara Goldberg-DeLeo and Kristy Bodnar are its new owners, purchasing the shop in late July of this year.

“We share a love of literacy and in the past said that we would like to purchase Mystery Lovers Bookshop. We didn’t think the opportunity would ever present itself, but when it did, we decided to make it a reality,” Goldberg-DeLeo said. 

The store’s history in the community, along with the area itself, made the shop attractive to the team. 

“Mystery Lovers Bookshop has recognition through the mystery books community as well as throughout Oakmont and the surrounding areas,” said Goldberg-DeLeo. “Local business areas are shrinking, but Oakmont continues to thrive.” 

Like other independent area bookstores, Mystery Lovers is dedicated to local readers. “There is something to be said about feeling a book and reading the first few pages before committing to reading it from cover to cover. We can recommend books to you based on what you tell us and what other customers let us know,” Goldberg-DeLeo said. 

Like their counterparts, Mystery Lovers hosts special author events, book clubs and other activities. 

“We understand the community and are a service to the area; we have a vested interest in keeping people engaged,” Goldberg-DeLeo said.

She added that it is a great time to be in the business. “People are continually telling us that they miss the feel of a physical book; independent bookstores are having a renaissance.”