Amazing Books and Records Opens New Walnut Street Location

Amazing Books and Records made its debut of a new Shadyside location this Wednesday, in a former Athleta on Walnut Street. The grand opening on Wednesday, May 22 showed the neighborhood’s hunger for something a little homier on one of Pittsburgh’s highest-traffic luxury shopping areas. Though Athleta has a lot to offer, it is a chain store. Amazing Books is a locally owned, independent business that almost every Pittsburgher has a story with.

A New Chapter for Shadyside

This year saw the closure of GAP and restaurant Acorn on Walnut Street, which was once home to hip clubs like Razzbury Rhino, Lou’s Bar and The Encore and has since transitioned more towards dining and rather nationally-driven retail. There are a number of empty storefronts on the street, though, so opportunities for new businesses are present. One attendee of Ackland’s opening night, who had been coming to Amazing Books and Records since 2014, said that “I think this area needs to be rewound a bit. I love Shadyside, and Eric has a deep heart and it shows in everything he does, including this new store.”

The New York Times profiled Ackland for his store’s status as a community refuge after Tree of Life, and for its unique character. He maintains strict observance of the Jewish Sabbath and Jewish holidays, and part of the store’s charm is its owner’s unwavering commitment to family and spiritual life. Since the store closes from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, Ackland compensates with Thursday night and Saturday night casual book and beer mingling events. On Saturdays, he stays open until midnight, making him one of the few retail businesses to stay open that late.

The approachability and zaniness of his selection means the store often attracts misfits and curious people. Since the store has bopped around Oakland, the South Side, downtown, and now Shadyside, pretty much everyone has stopped in at some point to some iteration of it.

The Friendly Face of Amazing Books and Records

Ackland was one of the first people I met in Pittsburgh. I still remember buying a cosmological science book called Genesis and the Big Bang and feeling like the store satisfied some of my weirder niche interests. The owners of Cozy Corner Bookstore, a used bookstore also in Shadyside, met in Ackland’s Squirrel Hill location before starting their own store. The Walnut Street location’s opening featured the opportunity to sample the wares of local distillery Lucky Sign Spirits. Lucky Spirits’ owner and Ackland hit it off with at a farmer’s market. When I moved to Pittsburgh, somehow, my driving instructor knew Ackland. He could be the subject of a six-degrees of separation game.

“I’ve long wanted to be in Shadyside, and I always found the rent intimidating. But I finally took the plunge,” Ackland said of the new venture. He took the all of the inventory from the downtown location and some of the leftovers from the Squirrel Hill store to create the labyrinth of bookshelves that make up the new Walnut Street store.

The refurbished store, once home to Athleta, has a bar-like counter near the back that Ackland’s staff said will serve as a book-buying counter similar to New York’s The Strand. Most local business stories tend to end like the “paved paradise, put up a parking lot” Joni Mitchell lyric—how often do you hear of an independent bookstore replacing a chain athleisure store? Ackland is bringing something positive to Walnut Street, and the grand opening cemented his place as one of the most beloved small business owners in Pittsburgh.

Story by Emma Riva / Photo courtesy of Amazing Books and Records

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