In 2012, when brick-and-mortar bookstores appeared to be on their way out, Lesley Rains took a leap of faith and opened the East End Book Exchange. Three years later, her shop is not only thriving, but it has becomes a hub for the city’s flourishing literary community.
Located at 4754 Liberty Aveue, the store is well-stocked, well-organized and warmly appointed, making it an inviting place to spend a few hours on a cold and wet October afternoon.
Q: Why did you open your shop in Bloomfield?
A: Bloomfield has a centrally located, heavily traveled, and established business district. It’s also affordable so although I grew up in Mount Lebanon, I now live in the neighborhood.
Q: Do you feature certain genres or topics?
A: We try to carry as many genres as our space will allow, but we definitely tend to focus on the humanities: classic and contemporary literature, poetry, history, philosophy, and art. We also carry childrens’ books, cookbooks, travel and regional history.
Q: What is your favorite thing about running a bookstore?
A: It’s really rewarding to watch people react to our books. Often a group of friends will come in and start pointing favorite titles out to each other, recommending books to each other. It’s fun connecting people to good books.
Q: You host several literary events a month. Can you tell us a little about your literary evenings?
A: We host readings almost weekly. They usually feature 2-4 writers reading their own work. There’s usually time afterwards for mingling and chatting among the readers and the atendees. It’s a lot fun. We also expanded to host music acts and community groups.
Q: How do you find the writers who read at your events?
A: Pittsburgh has a thriving literary scene – novelists, poets, nonfiction writers. Typically the authors or publishers reach out to ask about hosting a reading in our space. I haven’t had to seek out writers on my own since 2012. It’s great. I’m grateful the literary community has embraced the store and its space the way it has.
Q: Do you feature primarily local writers?
A: We do. We have a section dedicated to local writers and publishers. We carry poetry, literary fiction and nonfiction, lit magazines. There are a lot of great works to choose from.
Q: What kind of response to these events have you had from the community?
A: It’s been overwhelmingly positive. We host quality events and try to keep things fresh and interesting and the community appreciates that. I think that’s what keeps people coming back again and again.
Q: What did you do before you opened the East End Book Exchange?
A: I was pursuing a PhD in History at Penn State
Q: What do you read?
A: I alternate between fiction and nonfiction. I just finished Lauren Groff’s great new novel, Fates and Furies, and now I’m re-reading an environmental history monograph that I was often assigned in grad school, Changes in the Land by William Cronon.