Wait ‘til the Last Chapter

Jay’s Book Stall will become one more distinctive Pittsburgh thing that won’t be there anymore.

Bespectacled, forthright and frequently clad in one of his four pink oxford-cloth shirts, Jay Dantry has been selling books in Oakland for more than 50 years. He started on Sept. 1, 1955, at 1p.m. He was a student at the University of Pittsburgh but purposefully took no classes that started after noon so that he could get to work at the Professional Bookstore on Forbes Avenue by 1.

Dantry also remembers the powerful Pitt Bookstore, which was in the basement of the Cathedral of Learning. “It was a counter. You handed over your list, the woman disappeared for 30 or 40 minutes, then suddenly returned with a stack of your books.”  Unlike Jay’s Book Stall, there was no browsing. No unexpected discoveries. No forgotten paperbacks of books you’ve always intended to read. No photos of the staff with famous authors. None of the special quirks, bibliomaniacal joys and classy clutter that have distinguished the aisles of Jay’s for as long as anyone can remember.
His is a tiny store, aptly named a bookstall, like one of those small booksellers along the banks of the Seine in Paris.  Dantry moved into the Fifth Avenue shop in 1962, and the brown canvas sign that juts out over the sidewalk hasn’t changed much since then. “There was some sort of mechanical shop in this space before me, but I’m not sure what was going on downstairs.  I still have a Japanese massage table that we took out of there. I don’t want to know what they were doing with that,” says Dantry.

Dantry has decided to shut down the shop on June 1. “It was the week before Christmas,” he says, “and for the sixth time in 10 years, someone broke our front window. I needed to stay open, so in the early-morning hours, I was working with a man to put up temporary plywood panels, and he was out on the sidewalk, and I was here in the shop and, in order to connect the outside and inside panels, he asked me to push on my side of the wood with a broom.” Dantry picks up the broom that’s still there beside the cash register and re-creates the scene. “I was holding this broom, and I thought, I can’t do this anymore. I’m going to be 80 this year. That’s when I decided to close.”

“Wow,” I say. “You don’t seem as if you’re 80.”

“This is what 80 seems like,” he says with a smile.

I had asked Dantry to put together a list of some vanished Oakland places that he remembers fondly from his 50 years in this part of town. He mentions Scotty’s Diner first—it used to be where the Hillman Library is now. He talks about the department store called Prices of Oakland, the convenience of Leonard’s Men’s Shop, the uniqueness of the Briar Bowl, the Clock Restaurant, the Black Angus and an old-favorite eatery known as Henry Henry.  He hands me an index card with a few more: Binstock Jewelers, Hahn’s Card Shop and the National Record Mart on Forbes. “The biggest change, “ he notes, “was when they moved the post office from Atwood Street to that ‘Suicide Alley’ where it is now.” 

Over the years, people have marveled at Jay’s perfect location as a good escape for people in the hospitals across the street, employees as well as visitors. “Well, they shortened the amount of time that nurses get for lunch,” says Dantry.  “It’s difficult to get down here and back in 28 minutes.  We don’t get as much foot traffic as we once did.”
So what’s Dantry going to do without a shop at age 80?  When all the books are gone, when the bowl of Tootsie Rolls on the front counter is sitting on a coffee table at his apartment?  “Well,” he says dryly,  “I’m waiting for a call back from ‘Dancing With the Stars.’”  We laugh.  “Truth is, I’m going to go home and read.”  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Rick Sebak has been making TV programs for WQED since the summer of 1987. His newest documentary, “Invented, Engineered & Pioneered In Pittsburgh,” is available by becoming a $75 member of WQED at 1-888/622-1370 or at wqed.org.  Rick's next program for PBS will be “A Ride Along The Lincoln Highway,”  premiering in the fall of 2008.

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Best Restaurants 2016

Best Restaurants 2016

Which 33 Pittsburgh-area establishments did our independent Restaurant Review Panel include among its top picks this year? Find them here.
Six Pittsburgh Chefs Who Are Outstanding in Their Field

Six Pittsburgh Chefs Who Are Outstanding in Their Field

In addition to awarding Best Restaurant honors this year, our Independent Restaurant Review Panel also voted to recognize six chefs for their contributions to Pittsburgh’s culinary community in 2015.
Citizen Artist: Vanessa German

Citizen Artist: Vanessa German

German blends a collage of community activism and soul-searching artistry.
PittGirl to Wooers: ‘Not Today Satan, Not Today’

PittGirl to Wooers: ‘Not Today Satan, Not Today’

It only takes one person, one jagoff, one childish, attention-seeking, discourteous jerk to send a woo through PNC Park.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

5 Reasons PyroFest Will Light Up Your Memorial Day Weekend

5 Reasons PyroFest Will Light Up Your Memorial Day Weekend

PyroFest will also include live music, food, a Kids Zone and more.
8 Things You Might Not Know About Kennywood’s Jack Rabbit

8 Things You Might Not Know About Kennywood’s Jack Rabbit

When you compare what it cost to build the coaster in 1920 to what it would cost today, it's obvious Kennywood's owners got their money's worth.
Second New Restaurant Moving into Union Trust Building

Second New Restaurant Moving into Union Trust Building

The upscale seafood eatery is expected to open in late 2016 or early 2017.
Local Filmmaker Celebrates Pittsburgh Food

Local Filmmaker Celebrates Pittsburgh Food

Artist David Bernabo creates a series of films that track various aspects of Pittsburgh's food culture.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our new, daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Best Restaurants 2016

Best Restaurants 2016

Which 33 Pittsburgh-area establishments did our independent Restaurant Review Panel include among its top picks this year? Find them here.
Six Pittsburgh Chefs Who Are Outstanding in Their Field

Six Pittsburgh Chefs Who Are Outstanding in Their Field

In addition to awarding Best Restaurant honors this year, our Independent Restaurant Review Panel also voted to recognize six chefs for their contributions to Pittsburgh’s culinary community in 2015.
Citizen Artist: Vanessa German

Citizen Artist: Vanessa German

German blends a collage of community activism and soul-searching artistry.
PittGirl to Wooers: ‘Not Today Satan, Not Today’

PittGirl to Wooers: ‘Not Today Satan, Not Today’

It only takes one person, one jagoff, one childish, attention-seeking, discourteous jerk to send a woo through PNC Park.
Daytripping: Canonsburg is a City of Antiques

Daytripping: Canonsburg is a City of Antiques

Nearby Canonsburg is a rare find for antiques collectors.
U.S. Open at Oakmont: Will The Town Finally Be a Player?

U.S. Open at Oakmont: Will The Town Finally Be a Player?

The U.S. Open is returning to Oakmont — and unlike previous tournaments, this one could make the community a vital part of the action.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


5 Reasons PyroFest Will Light Up Your Memorial Day Weekend

5 Reasons PyroFest Will Light Up Your Memorial Day Weekend

PyroFest will also include live music, food, a Kids Zone and more.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Richard DeShantz Plans Two New Restaurants at Salt of the Earth Building

Richard DeShantz Plans Two New Restaurants at Salt of the Earth Building

DeShantz owns three other Pittsburgh restaurants and is about to open a fourth.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The quiet rise of Pittsburgh's tea scene gives us a few favorite gems.

Comments


Highmark Stadium Pub Wants Your Attention

Highmark Stadium Pub Wants Your Attention

The in-house tavern at the Riverhounds' home stadium is now welcoming guests during weekdays. But is it worth a dedicated stop?

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Resurrected Penguins Writing Their Story Their Way

Resurrected Penguins Writing Their Story Their Way

These Penguins have been downright unrecognizable, individually and collectively, on the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Flip the Switch: Industrial-Style Lighting Made in Pittsburgh

Flip the Switch: Industrial-Style Lighting Made in Pittsburgh

An electrician by trade, designer Thomas Verscharen creates custom lighting out of repurposed pieces.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The X-Men Would've Done Better in Wonderland

The X-Men Would've Done Better in Wonderland

Reviews of "X-Men: Apocalypse," "Alice Through the Looking Glass," "A Bigger Splash" and "Love and Friendship."

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Get with the (Wedding) Program

Get with the (Wedding) Program

Have you ever considered making programs for your wedding guests? If not, think again and get creative.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
A Tiny House that's Big on Energy Savings

A Tiny House that's Big on Energy Savings

Spread out across the city for these upcoming events, including a “Tiny House” exhibit at the Carnegie Science Center displayed by the FIY Network.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Duquesne University to Host Small Business Networking Event

Duquesne University to Host Small Business Networking Event

The event will connect hundreds of small business managers and owners and provide useful information to help them take their enterprises to the next level.

Comments