Amazing Books to open new chapter in Squirrel Hill history

| Friday, April 25, 2014, 7:33 p.m.

It's going to be amazing. Literally.

After five years without a bookstore in Squirrel Hill, Amazing Books will open in June on Murray Avenue.

“In the course of looking for a place in the community, people have mentioned the storied history of bookstores in Squirrel Hill,” says Eric Ackland, the youthful 42-year-old proprietor who runs the store of the same name on Liberty Avenue, Downtown. “It seems like Barnes & Noble (which closed in 2009) put the death knell on them. We're really excited to bring it back.”

Squirrel Hill has a long history of bookstores, some successful, others fleeting. Atlantic Books and the Squirrel Hill Book Shop were staples on Forbes Avenue, and Mandala Books and The Bookworm attracted readers of various types on Murray Avenue. Schoyer's Books was a notable outlier on South Negley Avenue, offering used books.

But since the Barnes & Noble store on Murray Avenue closed in 2009, one of the most literate communities in Pittsburgh has lacked a book vendor. Bibliophiles and casual readers in the neighborhood have not had a place to gather, browse or convene.

“One of the vital things about a bookstore is it's very different from buying a book online,” Ackland says. “It's a place to meet other book lovers. It's a place to interact; it's a place to discuss books.”

Like the Downtown store, the Squirrel Hill branch of Amazing Books will feature used books, from dog-eared favorites to collectibles. Ackland, a freelance writer originally from the Philadelphia area who moved here two years ago, also plans to hosts writers for talks and book signings and offer writing at the Squirrel Hill location.

Jane Bernstein, a Squirrel Hill resident and a professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University, admits she's been “in a state of extended mourning” since the Barnes & Noble store closed.

“I deeply miss the pleasure of browsing — nothing replaces it,” Bernstein says. “Absolutely nothing. I've found so many good books this way. So, the thought of Amazing Books moving to Murray Avenue thrills me. I'll send my students there! I'll have them order books there. This will once again make me feel as if I'm living in a place, a neighborhood.”

One of Ackland's goals is to “humbly and hopefully, be a Squirrel Hill institution.” For that to happen, he realizes the store must thrive financially. Jerry Weber, the longtime owner of Jerry's Records on Murray Avenue, thinks Amazing Books will succeed. Noting that “people who collect old records also tend to collect old books,” Weber thinks the foot traffic in the neighborhood will support the bookstore.

“This is wonderful news,” Weber says. “We need a bookstore here. People are always asking me where the nearest bookstore is. I say we used to have a lot of them, but we have none now. So, he should be fine.”

Amazing Books will be located at 2030 Murray Ave. The target date for opening is June 1, if renovations proceed as scheduled.

Rege Behe is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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