Penguin Bookshop: Becoming as Green as It Gets

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December 2007

After nearly 78 years, the Penguin Bookshop in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, was due for a makeover, but what it's getting is a radical stem-to-stern renovation. The nearly 100-year-old building is being gutted and "retro-greened" to meet building standards set by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. Penguin management team Karen Fadzen and Leah Lindemann are documenting the entire process on the Penguin Bookshop blog.

Fadzen, who is overseeing the project and the bookstore said, "Green is not just a marketing strategy. Developing a LEED certified project is the way that all new development and renovation projects should be happening in the future. We decided to attempt to be a model for redevelopment in our community."

Architect's rendering of the new store front.

Fadzen is new to bookselling. She became involved when Penguin's former owner, Margaret Marshall, announced her imminent retirement from the book business last April. "Because [my husband and I] were avid supporters of her store and knew that we wanted to have this resource in our town, Margaret contacted us when she was ready to sell," she explained. Fadzen then facilitated the sale of the bookstore to Bud and Janet McDanel, who employ her as a financial consultant. The McDanels consider the bookstore an "investment in the community," she said.

Fadzen will continue to work for the McDanels and has hired Leah Lindemann, a recent graduate of the University of Pittsburgh with a Masters of Library and Information Science, as Penguin's manager. Both recently attended a Paz & Associates workshop for new booksellers.

The old store sign coming down.

The existing 1912 - 1915 building had been built in several phases and suffered from substantial deferred maintenance, said Fadzen. "The light switches were still operated by push button, all of the systems were old and inefficient, and there was no insulation. We knew that we needed to gut the building and upgrade the systems, but we wanted to take it to the next step by building the first LEED certified building in Sewickley and possibly the first LEED certified, small, independent bookstore in the country."

Fadzen explained that LEED, a nationally accepted, third-party certification program, requires that they document that all existing materials in the building are being reused or disposed of in an environmentally responsible way, that new construction materials come from local suppliers and are either recycled or certified green, along with many other requirements. She also noted that LEED certification adds at least 10 to 15 percent to project costs.

Penguin will be installing energy efficient Hybrid Heat equipment for both forced air heating and cooling systems. Though the equipment is more expensive than conventional systems, it will save approximately $2,000 annually in utility bills.

Under construction.
The roof trusses are FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified.

The emphasis at Penguin is on ecological responsibility, but the new building will be beautiful, too. The store's blog notes, "We have also gone to great lengths to find brick that matches the original brick facade from the early 1900s. The color and consistency of this brick will restore the historic look of the original building ... and blend well with surrounding buildings."

Fadzen also said that they are "spending a considerable amount of money on the windows and doors to make sure that they are aesthetically beautiful and create as much natural light as possible in the store."

When the 3,200-square-foot general bookstore reopens sometime in late summer or early fall, it will specialize in travel, art and architectural, fiction, and children's literature. "We are going to focus on building relationships with local schools, libraries, and community groups to build consistent sales, and are going to try to build considerable online sales through e-commerce," explained Fadzen.

With the construction in full swing, feedback from the community has been "overwhelming," said Fadzen. "The interest in the building project is intense.... There is a general feeling from people that they are so grateful that someone has decided to take this on and do this for the village."

Fazden envisions the store serving as a model for green development within Sewickley, but is just as committed to seeing Penguin continuing its role as a place where conversation happens. "Our goal is to create a store that is comfortable and conducive to this type of exchange," she said. "We want to provide services in the village that encourage people to walk or bike into town, rather than get into their cars and burn gas to go to a mall. We hope to create a draw that brings people from surrounding communities into the village because of its charm and unique stores, which is more appealing than the cookie cutter, impersonal feel of big-box retail stores." --Karen Schechner

Follow Penguin Bookshop's transformation into an LEED certified property on the bookstore's blog,