Independent bookstores thrive in Cleveland Heights
Despite the fact that book sales have been plummeting for the past few years, Cleveland Heights is home to two successful independent book stores, Appletree Books on Cedar Road near Fairmount and Mac’s Backs on Coventry. And, as of this month, Appletree has new owners: Jane Kessler, who is 93 years old and has owned Appletree since 1990, sold the store to Lynn Quintrell and Alice Webster.
Quintrell, who has lived in Cleveland Heights for 30 years, has worked at Appletree for the past eight. She plans to close the store for two weeks in August so she can make what she calls “cosmetic changes” to the interior. She plans to increase the floor space and put the upstairs balcony to better use. She also plans to update the store’s website.
Both Quintrell and Kessler said that the store’s business has increased since Border’s Books, which had a store at Severance Town Center, went out of business in 2011. “They were our main competition,” Quintrell said. “We have a lot more shoppers now as a result.” They said their biggest competitor now is Amazon, but noted that there are still a good number of people who don’t want to buy books online. “People want to come in and physically look at the books,” Quintrell said. “You can’t do that online.”
Suzanne DeGaetano, the owner of Mac’s Backs, agreed. “Book browsing is a cultural experience,” she said. “People want to have a neighborhood spot where they can expose themselves to culture. It’s fun to do that.”
Both Quintrell and DeGaetano said that their stores have many regular customers, who stop in frequently. In addition, DeGaetano said that she gets a lot of customers from other parts of Cleveland and from out of town who come to Coventry Village to check out the neighborhood’s many stores and restaurants.
Kessler said that Appletree now has more children’s books on display than in the past. “It’s really hard to explore children’s books online,” she said. “It’s the same with holiday books. People really want to see what they are buying.” Quintrell said that the store sells many cookbooks, biographies and paperback fiction books. In addition, Appletree also sells greeting cards, note cards and wrapping paper, and the store will giftwrap books for free.
Quintrell and DeGaetano both stressed that the personal service they provide cannot be matched by Amazon or the larger chain stores. For example, Quintrell said that a customer came in recently and wanted four books from the 1950s. “Obviously, they are no longer being published,” she said. “But we were able to get copies for her, and she was very happy.”
Both stores host frequent author signings, though Appletree usually holds its events at Nighttown, which is just a short distance down Cedar Road. The two stores collaborate on a series of author events held at the Coventry Village Library. The next one will take place in early September, but the authors have not yet been determined.
In addition, Mac’s Backs is hosting an event in support of the Heights Library Foundation. It will feature Thrity Umrigar, a Cleveland Heights author who teaches creative writing and journalism at Case Western Reserve University. She will discuss her new book, The Story Hour. The exact date for the event has not yet been announced.
DeGaetano attributed much of the two stores’ success to the fact that the Heights has a strong book-buying culture. “People in our community recognize the value of bookstores, and they are supporting us,” she said.
James Henke, a Cleveland Heights resident, was a writer and editor at Rolling Stone magazine for 15 years. He is also the author of several books, including biographies of Jim Morrison, John Lennon and Bob Marley.