Bloomfield Bibliophiles

“What an astonishing thing a book is.  It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles.  But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years.  Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you.  Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs.   Books break the shackles of time.   A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic”.  

 -Carl Sagan

Bloomfield residents are lucky for many, many reasons. One them is the many options we have when it comes to searching for the right read, all within a few blocks! This date night is especially perfect for a first date when you’re not sure if you’ll have enough to talk about and want to learn more about the person you’re with. You don’t have to be a total book nerd to enjoy this outing, but it helps!

First stop: The Muse Stand,  4524 Liberty Ave

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The Muse Stand is the smallest bookstore on Liberty Ave. but it is definitely worth a stop. The compact size of this “bookstore and more” is one reason to stop here first, so as not to burn out on the written word too early in your date, and the other is that they have the earliest closing time of Bloomfield’s bookstores (Tues-Sat 10-6, Sun 10-3).

Two walls hold the entirety of their book collection; a good amount of fiction, cooking/food/wine, local authors, Young Adult/children’s books, a shelf of “sale books,” and the like. The titles are varied with only a small quantity of each.

The best reason to investigate The Muse Stand, however, is their magazines! (Yes, yes, I know magazines aren’t books but I assume that if you love to read, the thin, glossiness of a magazine isn’t going to hinder you.) FromPsychology Today to Philosophy NowInternational Socialist Review to Skeptical Inquirer, there is a magazine catering to practically every interest on The Muse Stand’s shelves and racks.

Every interest fit for public viewing, at least.

There are magazines on art, literature, film, theater, and music; medicine, religion, homes, and architecture; animals, crafts, transportation, and tattoos. Oh, the tattoo mags! There is a whole section just for them (which isn’t surprising considering the excellent tattoo and piercing parlors of Bloomfield, but that’s another post). Even mass-media magazines such as Vanity FairO, and Good Housekeeping have their place at The Muse Stand. When I visited, my date was particularly taken with a unique, high-art transportation magazine, Intersections.

The Muse Stand also has a small selection of comics as well as some cards, mugs, lunch totes, journals, and pieces of art for sale around the store. The store seems to have been stocked by a nerdy teen and their mom, you’ll see what I mean when you drop by.

There are two nice chairs at The Muse Stand, so take a seat to peruse your potential purchases. Ring up your copy of Blood Magazine (“Where gore is gorgeous!”) and push open The Muse Stand’s exceptionally heavy glass door because you’ve got a lot more bookish goodness to explore!

Second stop: East End Book Exchange,  4754 Liberty Avenue

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East End Book Exchange (EEBE) is Bloomfield’s honest-to-goodness bookstore and recently added more shelves to hold the extensive collection of books on all manner of topics. This is especially exciting considering the fact that, only one short year ago, EEBE was simply a booth at the veritable small business cocoon that is thePittsburgh Public Market.

Open a bit later (Tues-Sat 11-7, Sunday 10-4), you can fully enjoy the feeling of being in a bookstore at night.

The first table to greet you is the “New Arrivals” which is always exciting to peruse. Follow the informal signs hand-taped to the shelves to find your section of interest. Don’t take the section labels too seriously, however, as EEBE is organized just enough.  Uncover a lost treasure when you find the book you’ve always wanted, but never knew you were looking for!

A sizable History section features many regions; the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Europe to name a few. Literary Critique, Travel, Philosophy, Science and Nature are also available, among many others. I am a fan of their Food section full of cookbooks and great food writing. The Fiction section is substantial, and there is a good selection of books by local authors.

Be sure to investigate the $2 Book Sale shelf tucked in a back corner for some great, low-priced finds on a wide range of subjects. EEBE also has a Special Collection section holding a number of first edition, signed, and antique books. Many bookstores keep such items under lock and key, but anyone can pick up these treasures at EEBE. A fun children’s area with young adult and children’s books, a kid-sized table and chairs, and a chalkboard for literacy-inspired scribbling is found in the back of the store.

Once you’ve accumulated a healthy armful of reading material, make your way to one of the many comfortable, funky chairs scattered around EEBE — many of which are for sale (as well as the equally cool lamps that light them).

If you can’t find anything that entices you on the shelves, EEBE will order books for you. They also buy books in exchange for store credit, hence the name, but be sure to check the guidelines on the website.

As you leave East End Book Exchange, likely a little dizzy with book-fueled euphoria and kinda sore from lifting so many titles down from the shelves, be sure to check out the plethora of posters advertising nearby happenings. Nothing is more fun on a date than planning your next one! For an extra-special date night, check EEBE’s blog for upcoming events such as readings, book launches, lectures, and other fun being held at the store.

Final stop: The Big Idea Bookstore, 4812 Liberty Ave

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The Big Idea is billed as “Your friendly neighborhood radical bookstore and cafe!” and “a safe and accessible space for people to take part in an open and empowering community.” It is absolutely all of those things.

It’s a perfect last stop on your date night as you can get an excellent cup of coffee or tea, a bottle of pop, and/or a nice snack, from establishments such as East End Food Co-OpGreek Gourmet Marketplace, and Soup Nancys, and read away later into the evening than most cafes and bookstores on Liberty Ave. allow (Mon 11-4, Wed-Fri 11-9, Sat-Sun 11-7).

If the “radical” part of Big Idea doesn’t sound like your thing, don’t worry. It is a really cozy, chill little place and the “friendly” and “open” bit of the description definitely applies to everyone. They are not-for-profit, cooperatively owned, and their coffee is from Building New Hope. The most feel-good cup o’ joe on Liberty!

After picking your snack and drink (be sure to tip your staff member, they’re all volunteers), the next step at Big Idea is choosing a seat among four small tables and one fairly comfortable antique sofa (perfect for two people). For an even more secluded or intimate date, I recommend the table at the back of the shop, tucked in amongst the shelves, where you and your date can pick poetry books off the shelf under the window and recite to each other (if that’s your bag).

After receiving your drinks, grab your cup and wander. This bookstore, while not the biggest, is chock full of hard to find and thought-provoking material. Self-identified as a “radical” place, the books you find here are mostly ones you won’t likely see at a chain store.

“Our focus is on progressive politics, independent publishing and culture, queer politics, feminism, labor, ecology, racial politics, history, sustainability and cooperation.”

If this is your first visit and you’d like an introduction to some of these topics, check out the “101” section near the front of the shop. If those subjects don’t particularly interest you, check out their diverse Fiction section, graphic novels, small-yet-awesome children’s section (including bi-lingual books), and local authors section.

Big Idea also features zines, especially local ones, and a nearly irresistible pile of books that cost “1 Book or 1 Buck” under the end of the counter. At the front of the store you will find an extremely active Community Events information, a rack of lovely cards from local artists and fair-trade organizations, such as Sanctuary Spring, patches and pins, and posters for sale.

If you are not up for wandering, simply enjoy sitting at your comfy table, drinking our beverages (try the peppermint and ginger peach black teas), and chat about the interesting surroundings. The Big Idea has free wifi if you’re on a study date.

Be sure to ask about Big Idea’s membership program if you think you’ll be coming back (I can’t imagine why not).

After that, you’re on your own!

There are more wonderful things about these bookstores that I couldn’t fit into this write up. So, as Levar Burton, the patron saint of excellent reading, would say, “You don’t have to take my word for it.”

Visiting these spots on your next date is sure to both quench your thirst for all-things-book and remind you what an unbelievably cool place Bloomfield is.

Stay tuned for more Bloomfield Date Nights and happy dating, Bloomfield!

What are your favorite bookworm havens? Would you go on this date?

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[Bio] Taylor C. is a native Pittsburgher, theater and movement teacher for 4-18 year olds, and the reigning Pin-up Princess of Penn Ave. She loves dates and uses a lot of slang.

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