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Charlie Stewart

A Real Best-Seller
Jay’s Bookstall is still going strong after fifty years

Spring 2006

CSWhen the Pittsburgh International Airport opened in 1992, Anthony Dantry jokingly told his son, Jay, that he should open a hot dog stand there instead of continuing selling books because he would sell more of them. But Jay Dantry stuck to the book business and has, in fact, been “deliriously happy” ever since the day he started selling books on September 1, 1955. When Jay looks back upon the past 50 years, what he sees is a “red hot love affair wrapped up in music and song.” “The bookstore is a great thing to have,” he continues. “It’s a great thing to do. You meet the nicest people, and a few weird ones too.”

Left: Dantry orders books for his shop with specific customers in mind.

First and foremost, clearly, is the love affair with his customers. Jay reads them…well… like a book. Jon Lloyd, a Shadyside resident who is a retired surgeon now working for the Centers for Disease Control discovered Jay the first day he ventured into Oakland when he began his training at Presby in the ’60s. “Jay knows my reading tastes. He’ll call to say he has a book that he thinks might interest me and Joe [the store manager] will drop it off that evening on his way home.” But it’s more than being just about the books. “I may not go to the store for five months,” continues Lloyd, “but when I come in we pick up our conversation where we left off.”

Peggy and Murray Osofsky, also of Shadyside, have been going to Jay’s Book Stall for the past 40 years. “We wouldn’t think of buying a book anywhere else,” Peggy says. It’s sort of a phenomenon, and so is Jay. He is one of the last true characters.” And they do not mind paying a little more than they would from a chain or on line. “It’s worth it,” says Murray, “to have the relationship with Jay and Joe. You go into Jay’s and, if Jay doesn’t know the book, Joe does. They know what we are reading and what we would enjoy reading.”

CSThe bulk of Jay’s customers are from the East End—or at least they started there. “Most of my customers are either at Longwood or in Arizona or Florida, or, they’re just gone,” Jay muses. “Some used to be at Betty Ford, but they’re not at Betty Ford any longer. They’ll still call for a book and we’ll get it.”

Two other faithful customers from Shadyside are Myrna and Bill Hackney, who both belong to book clubs and, for four decades, have enjoyed buying their books from Jay. Not always able to get to the store, Myrna appreciates Jay’s willingness to deliver, but loves the atmosphere when she is able to make it in. “I think bookstores should be cozy,” says Myrna, “and Jay’s is cozy.”

Then, of course, there is the love affair with books. “It’s a terrific business,” says Jay. “It really is…You can barely make a living, I mean, you’re not going to get rich, but if you love books, it’s better to work in a bookstore than Hooters or somewhere where you’re not happy.”

Right: Jay Dantry greets customers at his front counter, which is filled with photos of himself with famous authors and visitors to his shop.

Jay understands he’s not going to love all books. “At this point in my life, I only read what I like and, if I don’t like something by page 47, I put it aside. That’s all you can do.”

But, when Jay is into a book he can’t put down, he savors it. One of those is The Good Life by Jay McInerney. “I know how much I liked it, because I kept it for about a month and a half before I finished it. I only had three pages to go…I just didn’t want to finish it.”

His all-time favorite book is Appointment in Samarra, by John O’Hara, and one of his current favorites is The Tender Bar, by Pulitzer Prize winner J. R. Moehringer. “It’s one of the best books I’ve read in about two or three years,” he says. Then there is the love affair with his employees— all seven of them, including manager Joe Emanuele who, as an 11-year-old, used to buy 25- cent novels from Jay. Then he began working for him while a freshman at Central Catholic. “I used to sweep the floors, get the mail and clean the bathroom. I was happy being at Jay’s. This was my second home. I grew up in it.” Forty-four years later Joe is still working at Jay’s as one of three jobs he holds, including teaching math at Central and scouting in western Pennsylvania for the Atlanta Braves. “He’s unique,” says Joe about Jay. “There are no other people still in the bookstore business today who have been in it for 50 years.”

How do Jay and his staff do it? “We steer people to books that will challenge them or grab them so they won’t let go,” says Joe. “We rely on them coming back.” They also have parking. “That’s the secret,” says Jon Lloyd, noting how difficult it is to park in Oakland. “Parking places are like gold and Jay has six at the back of his store.”

When customers walk in off the street and inquire about a particular book, Jay will give as much information as they need to decide whether or not to buy the book. It seems as if he’s read every book. “I think he has read every book!” exclaims Peggy

With many thanks to SHADY AVE magazine for granting me permission to reprint on my website.


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