Dormont? Why Dormont?
That was the obvious question last January, when Eljay's Books moved from East Carson Street, through the Liberty Tubes, and down Route 19. At the time, co-owner Frank Oreto told City Paper that Dormont was the place "where hipsters go to have kids." Still, doubts remained: Was Eljay's, once the upstart kid of the city's bookselling scene, now settling in to a complacent adulthood, out there in the 'burbs?
Not if Chris Rickert has anything to say about it.
"It's still hard to find people weirder than us," says Rickert, who joined Oreto and Louise Richardson as a co-partner earlier this year. (The Eljay name, by the way, is derived from the first initials of its original owners: Oreto's first name is actually "Jason.")
Eljay's has indeed retained the offbeat vibe that helped it fit in so well on East Carson Street. That crime-scene chalk outline, for example, is still taped to the floor by the mystery section. And the collection remains as diverse as ever, with room for niche interests like cryptozoology (the science of life that may or may not exist). The shelves still brim with history, cookbooks, political writings ... and tomes like Cats, Atoms, Gyrons, Aether and the Universe: Something for Everyone. Inventory ranges from the rare and obscure to $2.50 paperbacks and a "pay as you go" section, where overstocked books and other cast-offs go. Eljay's expects to diversify further down the road: Oreto is studying bookbinding so the store can offer book-repair services as well.
Though the new location is roughly the same size as the old one, the Dormont store seems larger, and the move has given the owners a chance to consolidate their inventory, making room to build on an already strong collection of science-fiction and other interests.
Rickert allows that the new ZIP code means Eljay's has to become a destination — a place that will induce customers to brave the stoplights of West Liberty Avenue. That means more author readings, and events like the recent 24-hour readathon, a fundraiser for the Greater Pittsburgh Literary Council. Offering such events, she says, "is important if you want to be a bookstore, especially one that doesn't have the foot traffic we had on Carson Street."
But happily, the store's more open floor plan makes it easier to do events like book-signings, and Rickert says the move has worked out well. In the South Side, she says, "We used to get a lot of visitors, but not always a lot of shoppers." Sales are up since the move, and obviously, Eljay's hasn't fallen off the radar of City Paper readers.
Besides, it's not as if Rickert finds the new environs entirely exotic: There's still a bar next door, she points out. "Sometimes we get people coming from next door saying, 'Can you settle a bet for us by looking something up?'"