Hitting the Road With Indie Booksellers: A Recap of the Full-Day Bookstore Tour at Ci7

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Here from Tegan Tigani, ABA Board member and children’s book buyer at Queen Anne Book Company in Seattle, is a recap of the full-day bookstore tour held last week during the 2019 Children’s Institute (Ci7). Tigani joined more than 40 fellow booksellers, authors, and publishers on the tour, which made stops at five indie bookstores in the Pittsburgh area. Here’s some highlights from Tigani’s trip.

The full day bookstore tour began with Mystery Lovers Bookshop in charming Oakmont, Pennsylvania, about 40 minutes away from the Children’s Institute host hotel, the DoubleTree in Green Tree.

Construction set us behind a little on our itinerary, but store co-owner Tara Goldberg-DeLeo and staff were ready for a warm welcome when our bus full of booksellers and publishing industry professionals arrived. We were given Ci7 tote bags and invited to help ourselves to tasty pastries and coffee from Oakmont Bakery, another local business. We learned a little about the store, started snapping photos and getting ideas immediately, and formed a line at the register right away.

"Welcome Ci7" sign outside Mystery Lovers Bookshop

Booksellers on the street outside Mystery Lovers Bookshop

I loved all the awnings on shops in Pennsylvania. Mystery Lovers’ black-and-white awning sets a tone that is carried through with the black-and-white floor and bookshelves inside. 

Book display at Mystery Lovers Bookshop

I liked the multi-level display ideas here in Mystery Lovers’ kids’ section. The fixtures that remind me of cake stands are something I haven’t seen before, and they open up space on the top of the bookshelf for free bookmarks.

Tegan Tigani, Jenny Cohen, Tara Goldberg-DeLeo

I remembered to take a selfie! That’s me, Jenny Cohen of Waucoma Bookstore in Hood River, Oregon, and Tara Goldberg-DeLeo of Mystery Lovers Bookshop. As the ABA Board members on the bus, Jenny and I helped make sure we didn’t leave anyone behind. As Keeper of the Clipboard, Jenny was Master of the Itinerary and Buddy-checker for each stop. 

Snacks at Spark Books

More delights awaited us at our next stop, Spark Books in nearby Aspinwall. Our bus arrived to a game of cornhole, a full table of make-your-own trail mix, and “Adult Bug Juice” — a camp-themed party just for us. Store owner Adriene Rister gave us the background on her beautiful 470-square-foot children’s bookstore, which she opened at the beginning of the year. In the bags: pretzels, dried fruit, nuts, M&Ms, Goldfish crackers, and more. My creation, in its stamped paper bag, came in very handy for snacking later in the day.

Shelves of books at Spark Books

Displays of books at Spark Books

Our tour group was particularly impressed with Rister’s creative and well-curated sections (Things That Go!; Superheroes, Ninjas & More; Princesses, Unicorns & More; Life Lessons). Middle grade is displayed on shelves labeled grade by grade. We also loved the multi-purpose display fixtures: white picnic tables and benches from Ikea that get cleared off to create seating and crafting surfaces for events or birthday parties.

Jenny Cohen at Spark Books

Jenny and her marshmallow on a stick.

Booksellers filling snack bags at Spark Books

Rene Holdermann from Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park and Jamie Thomas of Women & Children First make good choices at the trail mix table at Spark Books. 

Spark Books Pride signage

Tegan Tigani and Jenny Cohen

These are our “get back on the bus” smiles.

 City of Asylum Bookstore storefront

We then were driven back to Pittsburgh proper to visit City of Asylum Bookstore, a store that supports the non-profit organization committed to freedom of expression and hosting authors in exile. The impressive Alphabet City space includes a dedicated event venue, a downstairs “Word Cellar” meeting room, and an attached restaurant (under separate management), Brugge on North.

City of Asylum sandwich board with SUMMER acronym

Booksellers are welcomed at City of Asylum Bookstore

Store manager Lesley Rains and children’s specialist Jen Kraar welcomed us with a presentation about the store’s mission and history. City of Asylum underwent extensive renovations and reopened in 2017. Its focus is on international literature, diversity, and translation.

City of Asylum's children's books section

We were told that they “made more room in the children’s section” for our browsing; when we actually got to the shelves, the method invoked gasps of wonder: library-style moveable stacks. The store also has named shelves and donor tiles behind the register as a visible reminder of donors’ commitment to the nonprofit’s mission.

Display of books at City of Asylum

A display featuring kids’ picture books in translation. (Kraar was a panelist for the Books in Translation education session at Children’s Institute.)

City of Asylum's Word Cellar

The Word Cellar in the basement is used to host intimate readings. Most of the tour ate lunch at Brugge on North, but a few of us ventured out to other nearby locally owned businesses, too. Thanks to Jenny’s careful adjustment of the schedule and bus driver Tom’s good communication and driving, we weren’t too behind on our itinerary.

White Whale Bookstore storefront 

We arrived next at White Whale Bookstore. Store owners Jill and Adlai Yeomans used a mic to be heard over construction upstairs as they told us about the history of their shop, which was originally founded as the East End Book Exchange by Lesley Rains, who we’d just met at City of Asylum. (We were starting to feel like a real part of the Pittsburgh bookselling scene now!)

Interior of White Whale Bookstore

Adlai and Jill, who had worked in publishing in New York City, bought the store in 2016 and reopened it as White Whale. The challenges of the construction didn’t put a dent in our delightful visit with our gracious hosts in their beautiful space. The store gifted us travel tin candles from local candlemaker North Ave Candles. (What a sideline find! They do ship nationally.)

Jill Yeomans with a bookseller in front of a set of bookshelves at White Whale Bookstore

The store has a bright future: they just signed a five-year lease, they were tapped to be the bookseller for this fall’s Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures events, and there’s even a cafe moving in next door. Store co-owner Jill Yeomans with a member of our tour group. 

Book display at White Whale

Tegan Tigani at White Whale

Penultimate stop selfie!

Classic Lines bookstore storefront

On the way to our final stop, Classic Lines, we drove past stately Squirrel Hill homes and the Tree of Life Synagogue, site of last October’s mass shooting. Classic Lines is on a lively commercial street nearby, just a few storefronts from the community’s public library. Clearly, the shop is an important neighborhood space.

Tegan Tigani with Drag Queen Story Hour's Ona Louise

We arrived just after Drag Queen Story Hour and got to meet the gorgeous Ona Louise (who presented at the Art of Reading Aloud education session at Children’s Institute). The store’s Pride window display was a shimmering invitation to all. Inside, they welcomed us with generous goodie bags containing a photo book about Pittsburgh, a map of bookstores, and a store mug. We mingled with excited story time attendees and enjoyed browsing. The store has a strong emphasis on shopping locally and reading locally. Squirrel Hill was Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, and some of us felt ready to move right in.

Book display at Classic Lines

Shelves of non-book items at Classic Lines bookstore

The store cleverly uses some cozy nooks to showcase sidelines.

Bustling interior of Classic Lines bookstore 

Paper shopping bag with Classic Lines logo

The Pittsburgh area bookstores made us feel right at home. We got so many fresh ideas (and books, totes, and t-shirts) that we’ll remember this trip for a long time. Thank you to the ABA for organizing, our intrepid driver Tom for getting us back in time for the First-Timer Orientation & Mentor/Mentee Meet-up, and all the booksellers who shared their treasures with us.

—Tegan Tigani, children’s book buyer for Queen Anne Book Company, Seattle, Washington