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A radical independent bookstore expands

The Big Idea moves to bigger digs in Bloomfield

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On the main drag: Big Idea's new location
  • On the main drag: Big Idea's new location

For seven years, The Big Idea Bookstore has sold books, zines, pamphlets and manifestos, dubbing itself "your friendly neighborhood radical bookstore." Like so many such shops, The Big Idea closed its doors last Thursday. 

But unlike those other stores, it's reopening around the corner in a much larger space. Instead of its cramped cubbyhole on South Millvale Avenue, Big Idea is taking a storefront on Liberty Avenue, along Bloomfield's main drag. Patrons will find a café, couches for reading and debate, shelves packed with provocative titles, and an entire back room full of used volumes. 

"We've definitely outgrown the old space," says Big Idea's Hannah Dobbz. "We want to do more events." Events may include readings, signings, movie screenings and workshops. The old store barely fit five customers. Also, no air conditioning. 

What's unusual about Big Idea is not only its radical selection (Chomsky, AdBusters, vegan cookbooks), but its "worker co-op" business model. Every full-time employee effectively co-owns the not-for-profit store, Dobbz says. And all of the store's decisions are made by democratic consensus. 

Big Idea has only seven staffers, and consensus has done them well. The new store has bright-yellow walls, a brand-new floor in the back, and smooth bookshelves procured from the defunct Borders in Bethel Park. The store is even starting a membership program, which offers discounts and encourages book recycling. 

As Dobbz gave a tour of the new premises, artist Santiago Armengod used a black marker to finish his expansive mural on the east wall. Armengod, 27, is a Justseeds Artists' Cooperative artist from Mexico City. His floor-to-ceiling portrait is stark black-and-white. 

"It's just a woman reading a book," Armengod said. "I don't know long it's taken to make. I've been in and out. I'd say two full days' work." 

Big Idea staff hope that this collaborative spirit will likewise incorporate the community: This Saturday, the store hosts a "black-tie party" and membership drive from 8-11 p.m. Admission is $10, with enrollment optional. 

 "Most of us never thought of ourselves as businesspeople," Dobbz says. "But now we're businesspeople." Dobbz, 27, started volunteering two-and-a-half years ago. Now she handles all orders for the store. "I just called the bookstore one day and asked to be involved." 

Will she miss the old space? Feel nostalgic? 

 "No." 

 

BIG IDEA BOOKSTORE Black-Tie Party 8-11 p.m. Sat., July 30. 4812 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield. $10. 412-687-4323 or www.thebigideapgh.org

  

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