OK, this really isn't a political post -- I'll have some more of that stuff before the day is out. But if you're a sucker for bookstores, as I am, it's just as important.
Eljay's Used Books is moving from its East Carson Street location to ... Dormont, which owner Frank Oreto calls the place "where hipsters go to have kids." And he should know: He and his family have lived in Dormont for more than 6 years.
Oreto hopes to open in the new location -- at 3229 W. Liberty Ave. -- by March 1. (And not to wax too mercenary here, but apparently he's offering a 20 percent sale to help him reduce inventory before the move.)
Now I know what you're thinking, and you're wrong: This is not a case of a South Side merchant disgusted with the increasingly chaotic Carson Street bar scene."
"I happen to like South Side bar culture," Oreto tells me. "I like that you can get some Proust, a shot of Jack Daniels, and a tattoo all within a few blocks. Sure, people throw up occasionally, but who doesn't? I have kids."
Even so, Oreto acknowledges that the perception of drunken activity and crime has hurt walk-up business. The South Side "isn't what they show on TV -- it's not that same guy shoving somebody else into a wall over and over again. But you see enough of that, and people get scared about whether they'll be safe."
But the move was probably inevitable. While Oreto owns his shop's current building, at 1309 E. Carson, he says, "I've never been able to afford being in this space. I skimp on the rent, because I believe in giving myself a break, but the bookstore really does need to stand on its own feet." That was brought home last year, when he got an offer to buy the building; the deal fell through, but Oreto says he decided two or three months ago to move out anyway.
After all, he says, this way he can walk from home to work every day.
Oreto says he's already lined up a tenant for his Carson Street storefront: a tattoo shop moving in from elsewhere in the neighborhood. His Dormont store will be somewhat larger than the current location, which he points out "has pillars up in strange places."
The new location faces a parking lot near the Dormont Junction T stop, and is near Franco's Trattoria restaurant. Obviously, it lacks some of the synergy of the current store, which is just a few doors down from City Books, perhaps the city's quintessential used bookshop. In Dormont, Oreto's nearest competitor will be a small bookstore on Potomac Avenue that goes heavy on beach reading.
Will the Eljay's product mix change in the new location? "Things will be somewhat market-drive," Oreto says. "If everyone comes in looking for Nora Roberts, I'll probably have some more Nora Roberts there. Right now, because there are so many students nearby, everyone wants writers like Hunter S. Thompson and Kurt Vonnegut. And every two or three years, they bring it all back."
Sometimes those customers come back, he says, "and get all teary-eyed about the store. I'll miss that."