Mac's Backs thriving on Coventry

Suzanne DeGaetano, owner of Mac's Backs.

In this era when bookstores, like record stores before them, seem to be a dying breed, Mac’s Backs is bucking the trend. According to co-owner Suzanne DeGaetano, business at the Coventry Road shop is "just fine."

DeGaetano said that the closing of the Borders chain and other large stores in the area has helped. “We have definitely had a spike in our business.” Despite the pressure from and other online sources, “people still want to browse. They want to be able to stay in a store for 10 minutes and look at the books. It’s a cultural experience.”

Mac’s Backs does a variety of things to keep business strong, including building a larger online presence with its website, It is also selling more e-books and doing more off-site special events. On June 1, the store will sell books at the Cleveland Veg Fest at the Cleveland State University Student Center and at Case Western Reserve University’s (CWRU) writers conference.

Mac’s Backs dates to 1978, when Jim McSherry bought a used-book store in Chagrin Falls. When he started studying at Kent State University, he moved the store to Kent, then he moved it back to Chagrin a year later. In 1982, McSherry decided he wanted to open another store, and his friend DeGaetano volunteered to open one in Cleveland Heights, where she lived. The original location was above the Dobama Theatre on Coventry Road. In 1984, it moved to the north end of Coventry, then moved again in 1993 to its current location at 1820 Coventry, next to Tommy’s restaurant. The store in Chagrin Falls is no more, but McSherry, now a lawyer, is still DeGaetano’s business partner.

Mac’s Backs first opened as a used-book store and book exchange. Eventually, DeGaetano began bringing in new books, starting with some of her favorites, by Beat authors Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. She added more science fiction books, which remain a customer favorite. In fact, the entire upper balcony of the store is devoted to science fiction. “The store reflects the community,” she explained.

More recently, DeGaetano has focused on bringing in current best-sellers and more books by local writers. “Part of our job is to promote the work of our neighbors,” she said. The store frequently presents readings and signings by local authors, and features regular events, including a story swap on the first Tuesday of every month. Mac’s has had a book club for more than 15 years. The adult club meets at the store on the third Wednesday of every month. On the second Saturday of each month, a book club on fiction, fantasy and adventure is offered for middle-school-aged girls. There’s also a Nature Writers’ Workshop on the second Friday of each month, and, on the second Wednesday of the month, a poetry reading. The poetry sessions have been going on for almost 30 years, making it the longest-running reading series in the country.

This month, Mac’s Backs is offering several events: On April 3, at 7 p.m., Samuel Thomas, the author of Midwife’s Tale, discusses the mystery genre with CWRU professor Mary Grimm at the Coventry Village Library (a collaboration between Mac's Backs, Appletree Books and the library). The following night, Robert Diemer, author of Widow's Son, will appear at the store. Then, on April 10, at 7 p.m., Lee Chilcote and Brad Ricca offer a poetry reading. On April 13, at 1 p.m., there will be a blues-guitar songwriting workshop for children, in association with Roots of American Music. On April 27, at 7 p.m., the store will host a reading by writers from the Small Victories literary journal.

Next door to Mac's Backs, at Tommy's restaurant, on April 24, 9:30–10:30 a.m., there will be a book launch for Cleveland Heights author Tricia Springstubb's new picture book, Phoebe and Digger. The event (with bagels and coffee donated by Tommy's) is also a fundraiser for Family Connections. 

“Events are a big part of our identity,” DeGaetano said. “It’s what we love to do, and it’s a way to be part of the community.”

Jim Henke

James Henke lives in Cleveland Heights. He was a writer and editor for Rolling Stone magazine for about 15 years, and he is the author of numerous books, including biohgraphies of John Lennon, Bob Marley and Jim Morrison.

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Volume 6, Issue 4, Posted 12:00 PM, 03.28.2013