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Mystery Lovers Bookshop makes way for new owner.

Founding owners bow out after 22 years.

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It's an ironic twist a detective novelist might appreciate: The perils facing independent bookstores didn't deter Richard Goldman and Mary Alice Gorman from starting their own. But it was a successful holiday season that convinced them to sell Mystery Lovers Bookshop.

And they sold it so quickly thanks to an equally fiction-worthy coincidence.

In 1990, the spouses were bibliophiles and mystery fans who wanted their own store. In the dawning big-box age, they knew, an independent, general-interest bookshop would struggle. Luckily, they learned that America's best-selling genres are romance and mystery.

Their 2,000-square-foot Oakmont specialty store has thrived even while many of those big-box bookstores faltered. The secret is that MLB isn't just a place to exchange pennies for pages. It hosts seven monthly book clubs. It's a literary scene, presenting dozens of authors in person each year, including the best-selling likes of Sue Grafton; on April 30, its annual Festival of Mystery drew 42 authors and some 350 visitors. And it's a place where the owners and five other employees can accurately deduce what you'd like to read next.

MLB generates at least 25 percent of its sales online, says Goldman. But the nationally known store can't compete on price or convenience. Instead, Goldman says, it cultivates customer loyalty, and fosters a community of book-lovers "who patronize us because it's important to them that we keep being there."

Business at MLB is up: Last year's holiday sales were 20 percent higher than 2010's. That made it a propitious time, the Shadyside couple felt, to retire, visit grandchildren and travel.

They announced their search for a buyer on Feb. 14. And who should be visiting her daughter in Pittsburgh just then but Laurie Stephens, a veteran, Dallas-based book professional and mystery fan looking to switch careers and run her own bookshop? "They had the community feel and the niche I wanted to fill," says Stephens. She met with Goldman and Gorman the very next day.

Of MLB's 13 suitors, Stephens stood out for her 35 years as a librarian, in retail and, most recently, disfrecting the Dallas Museum of Art's Arts & Letters Live literary series. MLB sold for "six figures," Goldman says.

Members of MLB's loyal community met Stephens at the April 30 festival. "She's full of energy and has lots of ideas," says Pittsburgh detective novelist Kathleen George.

Stephens assumes ownership June 30. Case closed.

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