You Should Know: Lesley Rains

Her East End Book Exchange is more than a bookstore. It’s a hub for the literary community.




photo by Mark Simpson

 

In early 2011, Lesley Rains, who had recently moved back to Pittsburgh, was looking for a book. It was a Jane Austen novel, she recalls — in other words, a book that shouldn’t be hard to find. She went to several bookstores, but there weren’t that many to visit, and still she couldn’t find the book. As simply as that, it occurred to her to open a bookstore. When national chain Borders went out of business later that year, she saw it as a sign — not to back down from the idea but to pursue it. After all, Pittsburgh’s need had just gotten greater.

The East End Book Exchange started in summer 2011 as a pop-up. It didn’t have its own storefront but “popped up” outside of coffee shops, in galleries, in shared spaces and near other storefronts.

“All I needed [were] boxes of books, my car and a place to set up,” says Rains, 34, of Lawrenceville.

It was a low-risk way to get an education in the book business, allowing her to assess what the community needed. Her brick-and-mortar store, which opened in 2012 in Bloomfield, is not only a growing bookseller but also is an after-hours community hub. Most weeks the store holds at least one reading or community event, and last year she didn’t seek out any of that programming — people came to her with ideas and requests.

Rains, who joined the Bloomfield Development Corporation after opening her business, says she is happy with the store’s success. “We can always add more books and more shelves, but in terms of being an events space, I’d just like to see people continue to utilize us,” she says.



 

Did starting your business as a pop-up bookstore influence the way you eventually opened your own space?
I didn’t consider it that way at the time. I really just considered it a self-made internship, but seeing the way people responded to it and the way in particular local writers responded to it . . . [made me think that] being more community-focused . . . could be a way to get my foot in the door in terms of finding a niche and finding a distinct identity in Pittsburgh’s bookseller universe. I just got a big sense that anyone who wants to open a bookstore in this climate, in this day and age, has to have this event/community focus. You have to be a multifaceted place in some way to survive.

So from the beginning you were thinking this would be a community space as well as a bookstore?
For sure.

What are some of the types of events that you host here?
We’ve done a lot of readings [such as] poetry readings, and those can be book launches for new releases or just a group of people who want to host their own reading. We’ve held some panel discussions, we’ve held community meetings, [but] mostly multireader meetings have been the biggest draw and biggest focus for us.

How do you think a community space such as the one you offer plays a role in the larger literary world of Pittsburgh? I think it’s just a nexus point for bringing all of these different facets of the literary ecosystem . . . together. [There are] a number of indie publishers, and there are so many writers, poets and creative nonfiction [writers] and novelists, and [the East End Book Exchange is] a place where they can come and see each other. I think they all are sort of aware that each other exists, but when somebody has a reading they can actually come and be in the same room and talk and get to know each other on a personal level in a way that just communicating on social media or via email or just reading each other’s work doesn’t allow. Somebody described the place one time after an event as [being] like a salon, in the old 19th-century, French version of the word — a meeting of the minds.

Moving forward with the store and your role in the community, what would you like to do?
. . I’d love to do more with children . . . I know the library system is very active in children’s literature, but the bookstores around here I don’t think court young readers the way we could. I’d like to bring that — whether it’s story hours or parent/child read-alongs. I’d love to have more children’s-focused activities here.

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in July

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in July

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
Best of the 'Burgh 2017

Best of the 'Burgh 2017

Host an event in Pittsburgh’s urban sustainable homestead. Join a club for mushroom hunters. Tour a coal mine. Listen to some banjo music. We list our new favorite experiences, food, drink, personalities, stores, items and activities in the ’Burgh.
Daytripping: The ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’

Daytripping: The ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’

Fourteen years ago this month, the mighty Kinzua Viaduct met its match.
Restaurant Review: The Café Carnegie

Restaurant Review: The Café Carnegie

The restaurant, run by Dinette’s Sonja J. Finn, boosts the dining experience at the Carnegie museums in Oakland.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Can You Really Learn CPR in Pittsburgh in Five Minutes?

Can You Really Learn CPR in Pittsburgh in Five Minutes?

We put two of our interns to the test at the Carnegie Science Center.
Important Things to Know About the Furries

Important Things to Know About the Furries

The Furries are in Pittsburgh this weekend for their annual convention. We’ve got a list of do’s and don’ts to make them feel welcome.
Pittsburgh Workers Use the Most Vacation Time in the Country

Pittsburgh Workers Use the Most Vacation Time in the Country

Project: Time Off reports that just 40 percent of Pittsburghers end the year with unused vacation time.
Duck Donuts Opens Its First Pittsburgh-Area Location

Duck Donuts Opens Its First Pittsburgh-Area Location

The shop promises a “taste of the Outer Banks” without the 9-hour drive.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in July

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in July

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
Best of the 'Burgh 2017

Best of the 'Burgh 2017

Host an event in Pittsburgh’s urban sustainable homestead. Join a club for mushroom hunters. Tour a coal mine. Listen to some banjo music. We list our new favorite experiences, food, drink, personalities, stores, items and activities in the ’Burgh.
Daytripping: The ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’

Daytripping: The ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’

Fourteen years ago this month, the mighty Kinzua Viaduct met its match.
Restaurant Review: The Café Carnegie

Restaurant Review: The Café Carnegie

The restaurant, run by Dinette’s Sonja J. Finn, boosts the dining experience at the Carnegie museums in Oakland.
Thrive: Smooth Moves While Getting Lost in the Music

Thrive: Smooth Moves While Getting Lost in the Music

FASTER Pittsburghʼs Hip Hop Cardio promises to get your workout into a groove.
Curling in Pittsburgh: ‘It's Basically Golf and Chess on Ice’

Curling in Pittsburgh: ‘It's Basically Golf and Chess on Ice’

On the eve of its largest annual event, the Pittsburgh Curling Club has plans to increase Pittsburgh’s appreciation for its intricate sport.
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Can You Really Learn CPR in Pittsburgh in Five Minutes?

Can You Really Learn CPR in Pittsburgh in Five Minutes?

We put two of our interns to the test at the Carnegie Science Center.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Pusadee's Garden Will Close at End of Year (But Not Forever)

Pusadee's Garden Will Close at End of Year (But Not Forever)

Look for some big changes at the Upper Lawrenceville restaurant, which is expected to shutter for at least a year.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Best Places for Kids on Rainy Days in Pittsburgh

Best Places for Kids on Rainy Days in Pittsburgh

Read on for some under-the-radar ideas on how you and the kids can survive a rainy day this summer.

Comments


Condado Brings the Build-Your-Own Model to Tacos

Condado Brings the Build-Your-Own Model to Tacos

At the new Downtown taco-and-cocktail joint, you can get anything you like atop your tortilla shell — but can your creation stack up to nearby alternatives?

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pittsburgh Pirates Looking for Relief from Their Bullpen

Pittsburgh Pirates Looking for Relief from Their Bullpen

The just-completed, pivotal 10-game stretch began and ended the same way for the Pittsburgh Pirates –– with no one having an answer for the faltering bullpen.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Make the Cut with Jonathan Moran Woodworks

Make the Cut with Jonathan Moran Woodworks

The Strip District-based woodworker's cutting boards can be custom made with the wood of your choice.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Buckle Up ... Again, as Cars 3 Hits Theaters

Buckle Up ... Again, as Cars 3 Hits Theaters

Reviews of "Cars 3" and "47 Meters Down," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Brewing Up Romance: A Couple Comes Together over Beer

Brewing Up Romance: A Couple Comes Together over Beer

See how this couple used their love of beer and breweries to create their special moments.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
New! Black Cherry Design Opens Retail Store

New! Black Cherry Design Opens Retail Store

Lauren Piasecki and Stan Adamik’s brick-and-mortar lifestyle boutique in Lawrenceville carries high-end furniture, lighting, new upholstery, candles, vintage goods and more.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Visit Thiel College for a Summer BBQ

Visit Thiel College for a Summer BBQ

On three days this summer, the college will host visit days for prospective students.

Comments

Edit Module