In 2019, Publishers Weekly named Classic Lines one of five finalists for its bookstore of the year award. Back then, the shop had become a space of refuge, dialogue and connection for Squirrel Hill after the traumatic Tree of Life shooting.
Now, Classic Lines has been purchased by Riverstone Books, an independent bookstore based in the North Hills, and the space will become Riverstone’s second location.
“The owner of Classic Lines, Dan Iddings, has decided to retire from bookselling and approached Riverstone about a possible purchase,” says Barbara Jeremiah, owner of Riverstone Books. “We were delighted Dan considered us a good home for his books and booksellers.”
Iddings thinks that this is the best possible outcome for the literary culture of Pittsburgh — and especially this very literate neighborhood near two of the world’s top universities.
“We are grateful for the support of our customers and neighbors, particularly in the time since Covid forced us to close our doors,” says Iddings. “It has been a privilege to serve Squirrel Hill and the entire East End community and I look forward to Riverstone taking our place to support readers of all ages.”
Riverstone is a general interest bookstore featuring new books. Across the street, Amazing Books and Records specializes in used books, so the two should complement each other well.
Riverstone has a large children’s section and a Pittsburgh Pages section featuring books about Pittsburgh or by Pittsburgh authors. A genre popular of late in its North Hills location is probably not much of a surprise: escape.
“The pandemic has reinforced our customers’ interest in fiction with a strong narrative to help escape political campaigns, lockdowns, vaccine shortages and working from home,” says Jeremiah. “And of course, lots of cookbooks.”
Though independent booksellers have experienced a bit of a resurgence in recent years, the pandemic has posed obvious problems. Amazon, of course, is the 800-pound gorilla of bookselling.
“We have seen an increase in online ordering from our website that we think is here to stay,” says Jeremiah. “While we love seeing people in person in the store, we’re also happy to fulfill orders online and appreciate that people in more far-flung places may still want to shop with us.”
The original Riverstone store in McCandless Crossing opened in 2017. It’s one of the only non-chains in the development, which is anchored by Trader Joe’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods and a Cinemark movie theatre.
“There was a popular Borders on McKnight Road that closed over a decade ago, and the area was just starved for a bookstore,” explains Jeremiah. “As longtime North Hills residents, we knew that the customer base was there, so Riverstone was an opportunity to fill that void.”
Of course, a good bookstore keeps the place hopping with author appearances, special events and creative programming. This has proved particularly challenging during the pandemic.
“We offer live events with authors on Zoom,” says Jeremiah. “And someday, back in the store, (we’ll have) children’s events like our annual Harry Potter’s birthday party and toddler yoga story time — and staff recommendations from passionate readers who enjoy helping our customers find just the right book.”
Riverstone expects to take over the Squirrel Hill spot on May 17.
“We think the vibrancy of any community is measured by the opportunity to read and discuss books, whether from libraries [or] independent booksellers,” says Jeremiah.