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Residents, Leaders Support Bloomfield Bookstore After Owners Say They Were Ghosted By Produce Terminal Developer

White Whale Bookstore's Bloomfield storefront.
Kiley Koscinski
90.5 WESA
White Whale Bookstore's Bloomfield storefront.

Customers lined up outside the White Whale Bookstore in Bloomfield Tuesday. Many said they were there to support the business after the owners said they lost out on a planned expansion into the Strip District's produce terminal. New York-based Posman Books was announced as the newest tenant of the development Monday.

Adlai Yeomans, White Whale owner, said he and his wife agreed to talks about a second location because they were told no other bookstores were involved similar talks. In a thread posted to Twitter, the store called the experience a, “cautionary tale,” and suggested the small business was “merely a bargaining tool.”

Dan McCaffery, CEO of Chicago-based McCaffery interests, said the talks with Posman Books had been ongoing for several years. “Had we had a signed lease with White Whale, we [wouldn’t have] gone anywhere else. But we didn’t have it.”

While White Whale had submitted a letter of intent to McCaffery in January, the developer had not completed its review of White Whale’s financial documents when Posman re-entered the picture with a lease and other financial paperwork, said McCaffery.

Yeoman concedes that a letter of intent is not a legally binding document. But he said during initial talks with McCaffery representatives, he was told there was not another bookstore competing for the space.

“We asked that very specific question and were told that both parties are moving forward in good faith and are not talking with anyone else,” he said. Yeomans said McCaffery did disclose that they had originally been talking to a different bookstore, but he said he believed those talks had dissolved.

McCaffery said negotiations had only paused while Posman opened a new location in another city. During that time, he said the developer reached out to several Pittsburgh-based book sellers to explore their options.

But Yeomans said he and his wife hadn’t heard back from the developer for months after submitting their letter of intent. The two were exploring loan options to cover the costs of a store build out.

“All of the planning for the expansion had been mapped out,” he said. Eventually after several unanswered emails, Yeomans learned Posman would be moving into the space instead of White Whale.

“They didn’t do anything illegal,” Yeomans said of McCaffery. But he said he wanted to warn other small business owners about his bad experience. Several local businesses posted on White Whale’s Instagram page that they had similar experiences with developers in Pittsburgh. Tupelo Honey Teas did not disclose which developer they talked with, but did clarify that it was not McCaffery Interests. Yoga Hive and Moop could not be reached for comment beyond their posts online.

White Whale has received an outpouring of support online and in person from Pittsburgh residents as a result of the thread.

A line of customers stood outside of White Whale's Bloomfield storefront Tuesday. Several customers said they came after reading the bookstore's thread accusing McCaffery Interests of misleading them during talks to expand into the produce terminal in the Strip.
Kiley Koscinski
90.5 WESA
A line of customers stood outside of White Whale's Bloomfield storefront Tuesday. Several customers said they came after reading the bookstore's thread accusing McCaffery Interests of misleading them during talks to expand into the produce terminal in the Strip.

Maria Montano, a Beechview resident, visited White Whale’s Bloomfield storefront for the first time Tuesday. She said she had previously ordered books from the seller online, but Monday’s announcement inspired her to support the business in person.

“I was really surprised to see what had happened to them and really disappointed,” she said with a bag of books in hand. “I’m really excited to be here [today]. When I showed up here at noon there was actually a line of folks waiting to get in the door… it was impressive to see so many people come out.”

Darwin Leuba, an O’Hara Township resident, called on Pittsburgh residents to buy a book at White Whale Tuesday.

“I’m honestly shocked by how many people showed up. But I think that demonstrates how much we want to support the local book sellers, local businesses and the local community,” he said.

Other familiar faces came to White Whale Tuesday to pick up a book. City Councilwoman Deb Gross, who represents Bloomfield and the Strip District; Lisa Middleman, a criminal defense attorney campaigning for a seat on Allegheny County’s Court of Common Pleas; and State Rep. Ed Gainey were at the store talking with community members.

“We all want to be able to go experience our own unique, regional products … You go to the Strip District to have an authentic, regional experience,” Gross said. “It’s a great location for local businesses. Why go to New York to find an ice cream company?”

Posman Books will sell toys and ice cream in addition to books, according to McCaffery.

“We can’t keep saying we’re growing the tax base, but the people that have been here through the good times and the bad times can’t play a part in this economy. That’s not called growing, that’s called displacement,” said Gainey, who is running for the Democratic nomination for Pittsburgh mayor against incumbent Bill Peduto.

Criticism pointed at the Peduto administration grew online Monday when Dan Gilman, the mayor’s chief of staff, tweeted a link to an article about Posman coming to Pittsburgh. “I have been working on this one for a few years. Excited to welcome Posman Books to the Produce Terminal,” the tweet reads.

“The Mayor’s office was not aware that White Whale was interested in opening a location in the Produce Terminal, and separately spoke with Posman Books about their interest in coming to Pittsburgh,” a spokesman for Mayor Bill Peduto said when asked about the city’s involvement in the deal.

“The Mayor's office would fully support expansion plans by White Whale or any other small business in the city."

Standing outside of White Whale, Gainey criticized the response. “This administration has pointed the finger at everybody else,” Gainey said.

McCaffery said Posman Books will be the first small business not based in Pittsburgh to move into the produce terminal. He also challenged statements characterizing the business as a large bookstore chain. “They’re a very small operation. They’re not a national [chain],” McCaffery said.

Other tenants at the produce terminal are On Par Now, a golf instructor; City Grows, an urban organic garden shop; Walk Run Lift, an exercise studio run by Walk Productions; Envy Premier Nail Spa, a nail salon; Aurora Innovation, a self-driving vehicle software company; and a Fine Wine & Good Spirits store.

As part of the $62.6 million terminal project, McCaffery has committed to set aside 40,000 square feet of the terminal for local and regional businesses. McCaffery said he still expects to exceed that goal.

Meanwhile, White Whale owners Jill and Adlai Yeomans said they’ve been floored by the support of locals after their posts. “It lifted us up, and we love yinz,” a statement posted to the business’ Twitter page reads.

“We’re going to be fine as a store. I’m not worried about that," Adlai Yeomans said. "We’re going to keep doing what we do and keep building the community that we’ve been building."

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.