March of the Penguin

Sewickley’s Penguin Bookshop has everything an independent bookstore needs — except a clear future.




Photo by Chuck Beard
 

 

On a quiet Monday morning, customers pass in a steady stream through the doors of Penguin Bookshop. Some grab a newspaper; others head to the front desk to pick up a special order. A few browse shelves covered in tags bearing staff recommendations. Everyone who comes through the door makes a purchase. No one drops in just to wander.

The managers of the Sewickley landmark greet most customers by name. It’s the kind of familiarity bred over time; Penguin first opened in 1929. The shop has relocated but never left the neighborhood. It’s also been rebuilt: The current building was constructed on the footprint of the previous iteration in 2007 and 2008. When Penguin reopened five years ago this month, it was the country’s first LEED-certified independent bookstore. Today, it’s a handsome, cozy temple for book lovers.

But Penguin is for sale, for the second time in a decade. The shop has already endured a lengthy period of uncertainty in the book business — a period that has seen stores both local and national go under. Combine a tricky industry with an unpredictable future, and a question comes up: Can bookstores like Penguin survive in the 21st century?

Co-manager Tess Riesmeyer attributes Penguin’s survival to its place in Sewickley’s consciousness. “Penguin is in a community that supports it, and that’s really important,” she says. “We pride ourselves on offering personal service to everyone who comes in.”

“I don’t see the future of Sewickley without Penguin Bookshop,” adds co-manager Mary Ferris. “It’s important to the community to have it stay here.”

Ferris and Riesmeyer insist that Penguin isn’t on the market due to the health of the book industry. Current co-owners Janet and Bud McDanel, who were responsible for rebuilding Penguin, stress that they’re simply ready for retirement. Still, the sale would represent the first real return on the significant investment the McDanels put into the building (given the notoriously slim profit margins in the bookstore business).

“[They are] by no means a cash cow,” Riesmeyer says of independent bookstores. “I don’t know of any bookshop that’s an owner’s sole income.”

Though the building and business are being offered as a package, the McDanels aren’t requiring that the two be purchased together. “If someone were interested in the property itself for another purpose, there could be two separate transactions involved,” says Mark Kaufman, partner at Paz & Associates, a Florida-based organization that oversees sales of bookstores, including Penguin. “One would be to sell the business and facilitate the move to another location; [the other would] be someone to buy the building.”

In other words, even a surviving Penguin could end up vacating its eco-friendly digs for a more humble home. At press time, seven parties “have expressed interest” in the sale, according to Kaufman; he says that one potential buyer is interested in the building, and the other six (all local or with local family ties) are interested in the business.

The mood at Penguin is optimistic.

“There are so many people who want to be sure it stays in the community,” Riesmeyer says.

Penguin has a caring and engaged staff, a loyal customer base, a beautiful building in a prime location and 82 years of history. Now, all the people of Sewickley can do is hope that’s enough to keep the bookstore open.


Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Watch This ‘Pittsburgh Dad’ to Finally See Deb and the Kids

Watch This ‘Pittsburgh Dad’ to Finally See Deb and the Kids

“Street Light Stories,” the newest short film for the popular web series, finally shows us the characters who are on the receiving end of “Dad's” comments and criticisms, but who were never seen before now.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
First Look: Superior Motors

First Look: Superior Motors

Kevin Sousa's Braddock restaurant finally is open. So how is it?

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


A Band Called Creeper Made Me Love the Warped Tour Again

A Band Called Creeper Made Me Love the Warped Tour Again

Returning to the Vans Warped Tour proves that the long-running festival can still surprise — and, against all odds, it's even a great time for grown-up punks.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Stan's in Town Making the Rounds as Pens Celebrate

Stan's in Town Making the Rounds as Pens Celebrate

The Penguins’ successful Cup defense this season also has ensured trips to Canada, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Germany and Russia, as well as various stops in and around Western Pennsylvania.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Ease Your Way Into Style With These Slides

Ease Your Way Into Style With These Slides

Slide through summer with these trendy velvet slip-on shoes from Vintage Grace Boutique.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Valerian and Dunkirk are (Very Different) Winners

Valerian and Dunkirk are (Very Different) Winners

Reviews of "Dunkirk" and "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Here Comes the Bride and Groom — to a Different Tune

Here Comes the Bride and Groom — to a Different Tune

Three Pittsburgh-area couples make strong arguments for choosing non-traditional songs for the walk down the aisle.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Noted Garden Writer Tovah Martin Headlining Summer Short Course at Phipps

Noted Garden Writer Tovah Martin Headlining Summer Short Course at Phipps

The author of "The Indestructible Houseplant" will lecture on creating a garden for all five senses and other green subjects.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Tuition Increases at the University of Pittsburgh

Tuition Increases at the University of Pittsburgh

School trustees voted this week to increase tuition for in-state and out-of-state students.

Comments

Edit Module

Edit Module
Edit Module