City Books reopens as Northside’s first indie bookstore


Photo by Justin Criado

A look at some of the books in the ‘rare and collectible’ section at the recently opened City Books in Allegheny West.

By Justin Criado

James Joyce stood proudly in a corner watching the world through his signature Windsor glasses, hands in his pockets, chest out, while Ernest Hemingway stared intensely from his position perched atop a book shelf.

The life-size cardboard cutouts and portraits of famous authors throughout the recently opened City Books in Allegheny West add to its cozy ambiance.

As Northside’s only independent bookstore, the current incarnation of the shop was resurrected after the original South Side storefront closed last year after 30 years.

Photo by Justin Criado
The 600-square-foot space is stocked with nearly 4,000 books across all genres.

“It’s an honor. I think it’s going to be a challenge,” owner Arlan Hess said of the new venture. “We’re not a big store, but we have a big audience.”

Hess bought the store’s 20,000-plus inventory from late owner Ed Gelblum, and has stocked her 600-square-foot space with nearly 4,000 books across all genres.

“I like books. I went through every book and put it on the shelves,” Hess said. “There’s a lot in every section that I enjoy to read and that’s a big danger because I can’t just read all day.”

While she admits a portion of the books still in storage will likely never be stocked due to irrelevance, Hess wants to keep a diverse selection, including travel, cooking, classics and cultural studies.

“The old book store was a very academic book store,” Hess said. “I try to keep a balance.”

As a former literature and creative writing teacher at Washington & Jefferson College, opening a community space where people can gather over the love of books and host public readings is just as important to Hess as pushing quality paperbacks.

“I think that when bookshops and café shops come, a lot of other people come with that,” Hess said. “I believe in literacy. I want to help young readers become older readers.”

“…It’s exciting [to be a part of] as the Northside grows and goes through a renaissance.”

The response Hess has received since announcing the revival of City Books has been “wonderful,” noting the many visits and words of encouragement from passerbys and lifelong customers.

Photo by Justin Criado City Books owner Arlan Hess during the stores grand opening March 15.
Photo by Justin Criado
City Books owner Arlan Hess during the stores grand opening March 15.

Hess also said the store’s Facebook and Twitter accounts have gained a considerate following.

“People freak out when you open a book store in their neighborhood. They love it,” Hess said. “I’m a little breathless. We have probably gotten at least 100 followers since the weekend. Social media is amazing.”

A grand re-opening event will take place Saturday, March 19 from 12-5 p.m. Cupcakes will be served.

For more information please visit the official website.



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