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 ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in December

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in December

This month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
50+ Things That Will Make You Enjoy Winter in Pittsburgh

50+ Things That Will Make You Enjoy Winter in Pittsburgh

Love it or hate it, winter is upon us. Because some of us may think there's a lot not to like, we bring you 50+ things to eat, drink and do –– and some helpful tips –– that'll keep the blues at bay.
Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2016 Honorees

Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2016 Honorees

Pittsburgh Magazine presents the honorees from its inaugural Excellence in Nursing awards. Meet our judges' choices and learn what makes them remarkable in their field.
Choreographed Style: Winter Fashion with The Pittsburgh Ballet

Choreographed Style: Winter Fashion with The Pittsburgh Ballet

A regal ruggedness characterizes the season's menswear looks.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Welcome New Year With New Things At Pittsburgh's First Night

Welcome New Year With New Things At Pittsburgh's First Night

The annual New Year’s Eve event features food, fireworks, music and more.
Antonio Brown Makes Catch on the Field but Loses the Pizza

Antonio Brown Makes Catch on the Field but Loses the Pizza

The Steelers wide receiver stars in a new commercial where he first loses out to a Patriots' cornerback, but gets his revenge when it counts the most.
Never Wait in a Long Line For a Drink in a Crowded Bar Again

Never Wait in a Long Line For a Drink in a Crowded Bar Again

A new app developed in Pittsburgh, is designed to get more customers served more quickly when the bartender is swamped.
Sweet Surprise: Kelly Frey Awarded for ‘Sharing Her Heart‘

Sweet Surprise: Kelly Frey Awarded for ‘Sharing Her Heart‘

The mother of a child with special needs, Frey tirelessly shares what she has learned with other families in similar situations.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in December

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in December

This month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
50+ Things That Will Make You Enjoy Winter in Pittsburgh

50+ Things That Will Make You Enjoy Winter in Pittsburgh

Love it or hate it, winter is upon us. Because some of us may think there's a lot not to like, we bring you 50+ things to eat, drink and do –– and some helpful tips –– that'll keep the blues at bay.
Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2016 Honorees

Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2016 Honorees

Pittsburgh Magazine presents the honorees from its inaugural Excellence in Nursing awards. Meet our judges' choices and learn what makes them remarkable in their field.
Choreographed Style: Winter Fashion with The Pittsburgh Ballet

Choreographed Style: Winter Fashion with The Pittsburgh Ballet

A regal ruggedness characterizes the season's menswear looks.
Restaurant Review: B52 in Lawrenceville is a Levantine Lifter

Restaurant Review: B52 in Lawrenceville is a Levantine Lifter

Omar Abuhejleh taps deep into his roots at his vegan cafe that's focused on Levantine cuisine.
Why You Can't Beat The Weather in Pittsburgh in The Winter

Why You Can't Beat The Weather in Pittsburgh in The Winter

I’ve traveled a lot of miles, and I still stare in bewilderment at people who tell me they’ve moved to a place because “You can’t beat the weather.”
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Welcome New Year With New Things At Pittsburgh's First Night

Welcome New Year With New Things At Pittsburgh's First Night

The annual New Year’s Eve event features food, fireworks, music and more.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Miracle on Liberty Pops Up in Pittsburgh

Miracle on Liberty Pops Up in Pittsburgh

The holiday themed cocktail bar is one of around 20 international Miracle popups.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Best of the Burgh: Pumpkin Patches in the Pittsburgh Area

Best of the Burgh: Pumpkin Patches in the Pittsburgh Area

We’ve compiled the best pumpkin patches for fall family fun.

Comments


Why Wait For Summer? Head to Kennywood's Holiday Lights

Why Wait For Summer? Head to Kennywood's Holiday Lights

The park's winter celebration is great for families and a fine choice for anyone who loves Christmas (and/or funnel cake).

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pittsburgh The Heart of the NFL? Yinz Got that Right

Pittsburgh The Heart of the NFL? Yinz Got that Right

At the NFL Scouting Combine, at the NFL Draft and wherever NFL games are played, there’s often something of a Western Pennsylvania reunion taking place.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Locket Full of Joy

Locket Full of Joy

The handcrafted piece opens to hidden treasures.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Ten Upcoming Flicks Every Oscar-Watcher Should See

Ten Upcoming Flicks Every Oscar-Watcher Should See

PM film critic Sean Collier picks ten forthcoming flicks likely to rake in nominations for the 89th Academy Awards.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Real-Pittsburgh Weddings: It was Not Love at First Sight

Real-Pittsburgh Weddings: It was Not Love at First Sight

These romances were years in the making.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Seasonal Shopping: CMOA Store Holiday House, J.Crew Mercantile Opens Doors

Seasonal Shopping: CMOA Store Holiday House, J.Crew Mercantile Opens Doors

The Carnegie Museum of Art is full of Christmas cheer — and great deals. Plus, get the scoop on The Block Northway’s latest retail offering.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Tuba and Euphonium Players Invited to Join in Christmas Concert

Tuba and Euphonium Players Invited to Join in Christmas Concert

Waynesburg University will present a TUBACHRISTMAS concert on Dec. 9.

Comments