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Sewickley's Penguin Bookshop changing hands, moving

Bobby Cherry
| Monday, Nov. 4, 2013, 2:51 p.m.

Another chapter awaits Sewickley's Penguin Bookshop as the iconic store will have a new owner early next year.

Edgeworth resident Susan Hans O'Connor will take over the 84-year-old bookstore in January.

“I've been looking for a way to continue my passion for books and reading, and also a way to give back to the community in a way that's really personal to me,” said O'Connor, who began as a staff member at the store in January, and began her publishing career at publishing company Penguin.

The sale publicly was announced on Monday in an email sent from Penguin Bookshop's current owners, Bud and Janet McDanel, who purchased the store in 2007.

“We feel certain that she will be a wonderful owner and is eminently qualified to carry the bookshop into the future,” the McDanels wrote.

The Glen Osborne couple put the store up for sale in June. The sale price was not disclosed.

O'Connor — the wife of Sewickley Academy Head of School Kolia O'Connor — said she wants the Penguin to continue to be an iconic store.

“We've been working to keep this very treasured local business going,” she said.

But the store will undergo changes, including a move to 417 Beaver St. — the former Sewickley Bead Co. location — early next year.

“For the last five years — although it has been extremely well supported — it's been difficult to sustain it because of the overhead with the building,” O'Connor said.

The McDanels renovated the Penguin's current locale for an estimated $1 million.

The Penguin's current location at 420 Beaver St. is for sale. The property is valued at $497,500, according to Allegheny County property assessment records.

O'Connor said right-sizing the business for the community and capitalizing on the customer base is a focus for her.

“We have very, very loyal customers, and I'm hoping we can maintain all of the things everybody loves about the current store and move it into a sustainable space,” she said.

While national chains such as Borders close and Barnes & Noble downsizes, independent stores are finding some successes in an era when bricks and mortar stores compete with online giants like Amazon, O'Connor said.

“That's a real issue,” she said.

“That's the reality of the world we live in, with Amazon and e-books.”

The feeling among publishers and stores is that there has been a leveling off of e-book sales and the digitization of electronic publishing, with room for print and digital, she said.

“Bricks and mortar (store owners) are thinking it's going to be the survival of the fittest.”

O'Connor said independent stores like Penguin can focus on personal recommendations for customers, and hosting events such as author meet-and-greets, book club meetings and storytime for children.

“There's still going to be a need for that,” she said.

Bobby Cherry is an associate editor for Trib Total Media.

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