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'Last Unicorn' author will help rechristen Dormont bookstore

| Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Chris Rickert, of South Side, poses for a portrait in her bookstore Rickert & Beagle Books in Dormont on Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013. When Rickert took over sole ownership of the store, which was formerly Eljay’s Books, she convinced Peter S. Beagle, a fantasy author of works including “The Last Unicorn,” to lend the store his name and expertise. The store holds a grand opening party this Friday.

Chris Rickert grew tired of explaining who the “Eljay” was in Eljay's Books, after the co-owners who gave the Dormont shop its name retired last summer.

She happened to work for author Peter S. Beagle, directing sales for his publisher and helping to coordinate events related to his 1968 novel “The Last Unicorn” and its film adaptation.

When Rickert became sole owner of the West Liberty Avenue shop, she figured the award-winning fantasy author might lend her a hand.

Beagle loved the idea. “So I get to be the store's official patron saint and traveling carnival barker, and anything else we can think of. It's going to be great fun,” he said.

The name Rickert & Beagle Books has been on the bookshop's online outlets, receipts and some merchandise since October, and Beagle will arrive in Dormont on Friday for the official sign changing and a grand opening of the rechristened shop from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

He will visit the SouthSide Works Cinemas for a special noon Saturday screening of the digitally remastered “The Last Unicorn.”

While Beagle, who lives in Oakland, Calif., has no financial stake in the bookstore, he lends it his name, support and presence at special events when he visits the area. A section of the shop is devoted to autographed copies of his books, and merchandise tied to “The Last Unicorn” and his other works.

Beagle, a University of Pittsburgh graduate, said he believes it's rare for writers to officially put their names on bookstores, although Parnassus Books in Nashville is co-owned by author Ann Patchett and publisher Karen Hayes, and “Lonesome Dove” author Larry McMurtry owns Booked Up in Archer City, Texas.

Beagle said she'll use contacts with other authors to promote the business, which he said will be “the kind of bookstore that writers all secretly dream of hanging out in.”

The store hosts a twice-monthly Write or Die critique group for local science fiction writers, which is affiliated with the sci-fi club PARSEC.

Rickert was a manager for Joseph Beth Booksellers until the company sought bankruptcy protection and closed its store in the SouthSide Works. Meanwhile, Frank “Jason” Oreto and Louise Richardson were moving Eljay's from Carson Street to Dormont, and they took Rickert on as a co-owner in 2010. Both the original owners retired from the bookshop in September.

Rickert had been a fan of Beagle's work since she saw the animated adaptation of “The Last Unicorn” at 8. When Beagle came to Pittsburgh once for a convention, but lacked enough copies of his books, he called Joseph Beth to arrange to get some books in exchange for a book signing event at the store.

Rickert said she volunteered to help coordinate his “Last Unicorn” tour, and their daily contact led to the partnership in the store.

Rickert said she's putting her touch on the store's organization and decor, but Eljay's discounts for wearing store-branded T-shirts will continue and she'll honor the old store's gift certificates and store credits.

“I don't want to reinvent the store,” she said. “But there are a lot more unicorns, now.”

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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