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Bookseller Bucks the Trend

east-end-book-exchange-pittsburghIn 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.

Lesley Rains photo croppedQ: 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.

Reading at EEBEQ: 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.

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.

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.