New bookstore Downtown; Mystery Lovers for sale

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News from the world of independent booksellers: Awesome Books has opened a new shop Downtown that will stay open until midnight on weekends, while Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont is looking for new owners to take over the local institution.

Awesome Books, 929 Liberty Ave., opened two weeks ago and enjoyed brisk foot traffic during the warm spell when co-owners Bob Ziller and Laura Jean McLaughlin, both artists, were able to prop open the doors.

"People are really excited about having a street-level bookstore in the Cultural District," Mr. Ziller said. "It's hard to gauge things, opening in the middle of winter, but we are looking forward to spring. We hope to be here indefinitely."

The shop takes over a long-vacant storefront. It has about 3,000 volumes on the shelves, new and used, and is aiming for 10,000 when fully stocked. The owners hope to sign a partnership in the next few weeks for a cafe in the rear.

"It's a beautiful, old, turn-of-the-century building with a great facade and high ceilings," said Ms. McLaughlin of the property owned by Rugby Realty. She and Mr. Ziller have put $17,000 into the space so far for period-style lighting, painting, brick cleaning and other renovations.

This is the second location for Awesome Books -- the first, at 5111 Penn Ave. in Garfield, opened two years ago, with Ms. McLaughlin's studio in the rear. The Downtown space is twice the size, roughly 1,000 square feet, well suited for accommodating more people during readings.

One other difference: "This one doesn't have cats," Mr. Ziller said. It seems that Garfield felines Mojo, Cupcake Slim and Molly cause sneezing fits for some customers, so the partners thought a hypo-allergenic alternative would be only fair.

The noon-to-midnight hours on Fridays and Saturdays are an experiment based on Mr. Ziller's time living in New York, where he made regular late-night visits to St. Mark's Bookshop on the Lower East Side.

"I just thought I'd try it here, and so far it's been working out," he said. "Patrons go hear music or see a performance at Mahoney's, Bricolage, Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre or the August Wilson Center, and they drop by after the show. They seem pleasantly surprised to find us here and open late," he said.

Other hours will be noon to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.

In addition to supporting local authors with readings, Awesome's Downtown location is already displaying the work of Pittsburgh artists: photographs by Roy Engelbrecht, paper art by Katy DeMent and Amir Rashid, a ceramic wall piece by Ms. McLaughlin and oil pastels on tar paper by Mr. Ziller.

Also on the shelves will be art and poetry books published by Awesome under the imprint of Lascaux Editions.

As for Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, the longtime proprietors said the time has come for a changing of the guard.

"We are seeking a new owner," said Richard Goldman, who, with his wife Mary Alice Gorman, has owned and operated Mystery Lovers for 21 years.

The store had a great holiday season, he said. Sales were up 58 percent over Thanksgiving and 11 percent for December, so it makes sense to retire at a high point.

New owners with more energy and ideas would be better able to take the shop where it needs to go, they said. In addition, they want to spend more time with grandchildren in California while the kids are still young enough to enjoy their grandparents' company.

And Ms. Gorman, a 15-year survivor of breast cancer, added, "I'm feeling good now so I want to travel more while I'm healthy enough to do it. I have a wish list of itineraries on my kitchen cabinets, and it's time to do them."

The couple tried selling the store 12 years ago but then reversed course.

"We're older now," Mr. Goldman said. "There's a lot of opportunity for the store in things like e-books, revitalizing the cafe business, getting our Google AdWords words back in gear, but we're just not the people to do that anymore."

The couple are getting the word out to customers, authors and publishers and will see what comes back.

"This isn't an investment, it's a dream, something you've always wanted to do," said Ms. Gorman.

Sally Kalson: or 412-263-1610. First Published February 15, 2012 5:00 AM

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