A Bookstore Resurrected


City Books Owner, Arlan Hess, interviews with LOCALpittsburgh Editor-in-Chief, Rodney Burrell.
Print is not dead. Kindle Fires, iPads, phones and other electronico thingy-mabobs have convinced us that the written word is better off without paper holding us down. The cloud…The oh so glamorous digital age, we relish in your short battery life and gentle hum of radioactive energy rocking us to sleep at night.

And then, you meet someone like Arlan Hess. Writer, educator, entrepreneur…book nut. She’s the proverbial phoenix responsible for resurrecting City Books. The company was one of Pittsburgh’s literary staples for the past 30 years, until failing health and an unfriendly economy led former owner, Edward Gelblum, to close its Southside doors in 2015. Hess, who purchased the remaining inventory from Gelblum, gleefully celebrated the store’s grand re-opening in the North Side, with delectable literary-themed cupcakes in tow.

“The reception has been great so far, we offer a unique experience compared to larger bookstores,” said Hess. The 600 square-foot-space was packed with book lovers who came to welcome the North Side’s first independent bookstore.

The space houses some 4,000 titles and offers a very welcoming and intrinsic energy. As I watched the ethereal chaos, machine malfunctions, and cupcake consumption, I listened to what people were saying. They were talking about books. They were talking about titles that made them happy. They mentioned their interpersonal book lending rules. “I only lend out books that I don’t really care about. *collective chuckle*”

Not one cell phone, not one selfie. Not anything but books. And that’s when it hit me. It’s about more than books, it’s about an alternative perspective that we can achieve through the written word. It’s not about trends, it’s about fuel for the mind. Pen-to-paper, paper-to-hand.

“People still take the stairs instead of the elevator,” said Hess, in response to my question about the sustainability of books in the digital landscape. As we continued to talk, I confessed that I was not a pleasure reader, that I only read to learn information.

“But do you enjoy learning? If so, then you have nothing to feel bad about, but I would love to find you a book that would make you excited to read,” Hess said, right before she was whisked way to another customer.

And so, as the customers continued to pour in, I slowly pac-manned my way out of the bustling book haven, curious about what adventures I might find…Paper-to-hand.

Visit citybookspgh.com for more information.

*Side note* To Leora Flax, professional cupcake maker, and owner of Yummily Ever After, consider this my formal proposal for marriage. Please bring cupcakes to the wedding…and reception.

Photo credits: Julie Kahlbaugh