Among retail survivors of the era of big-box stores and online commerce, one of the more unlikely is the independent bookstore. A decade ago, many of Pittsburgh’s bookshops had been driven out by national chains, and the subsequent rise of web-based retailers like Amazon boded ill for any remaining brick-and-mortar outlets.
But Pittsburgh’s stock of such stores has actually grown in recent years. (That’s true nationally, as well: Since their low point a decade ago, the number of indie bookstores has risen dramatically).
With relative newcomers like Classic Lines, City of Asylum Bookstore, and White Whale Bookstore joining such mainstays as Sewickley’s Penguin Bookshop and Oakmont’s Mystery Lovers Bookshop, a remarkable number of Pittsburghers now live within walking distance of a bookstore.
That’s among the inspirations for Karen Lillis’ Holiday Book Sale, a pop-up showcase for local stores and small presses that returns Sunday. In its seventh year, the event is moving to Spirit, in Lawrenceville, and doubling in size, to 20 vendors.
“There’s been a lot of resurgence in the indie book scene, which has kept me excited about this event, frankly,” said Lillis, herself a professional bookseller. (Her online store, Karen’s Book Row, will be represented at the sale, but not Caliban Books, where she’s the new manager.)
The sale will include affordable used books, new books, and more, with offerings in fiction, nonfiction and poetry.
“There are books for readers, books for gift-givers, and books for collectors,” Lillis said.
Along with City of Asylum, booksellers at the Dec. 8 event include Amazing Books, Copacetic Comics, and Shadyside Books, the latter Pittsburgh’s newest used-book shop. Small Pittsburgh-based presses at the event include Autumn House Press, Creative Nonfiction, Stranded Oak Press, Low Ghost Press, and Eulalia Books. There will also be greeting cards from Winter Pickle Press, and homemade journals and sketchbooks from local artists.
Two decades ago, Lillis was living in New York City and working at the late, lamented St. Mark’s Bookshop. After moving to Pittsburgh, she set up book tables at community events like neighborhood festivals, but thought she’d have better luck targeting readers directly. “I wanted to do an event that was all book-lovers coming to us to browse and buy books,” she said.
The first Holiday Book Sale was held in 2013, at Belvederes Ultra-Dive, a bar in Lawrenceville. The sale later moved up the hill, to the Stephen Foster Community Center.
With the supply of local presses and sellers outgrowing the Center’s ability to accommodate them, Lillis is moving to Spirit. She hopes the demand follows. She estimates that last year’s Holiday Book Sale drew about 300 visitors, and projects this year’s could attract 500.
[Editor's note: This story has been amended to more accurately reflect the booksellers who'll be at the sale.]