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Interview: Books on the Block

Interview: Books on the Block

Big Car staffer Channie Jones chatted recently with Michael Stafford, owner of the used bookstore Books Unlimited near Tube Factory and across the street from Listen Hear, where we’re hosting a temporary Spanish-language used book store. Channie’s questions are in bold.

What is the family history of your book store? Dad started the bookstore 40 years ago. The bookstore has always been he and I. We changed locations once four and a half years ago. The building used to be on 922 E. Washington Street. The little, itty-bitty cinder block building sitting by itself across from Hardee’s. Our building got bought out by Angie’s List so we had to move. My dad then found then found this property in Garfield Park.

What items do you have available for customers? I’ve had a little different interest than my dad. I’m into comic books but it’s majority a book store. Here I have my knick knacks, electronics, movies, comic books and books. It has a lot of variety but it is a bookstore. I always do 20 percent off if you by over $30 worth of books. Sunday is the end of the annual monthly sale. It’s half-off sale of $20 or more book purchases. I’m cheap and always fair. Sometimes the cost is zero depending on the customer’s needs. I just try to be fair to people.

How do you determine your reading selection? How do you curate window display? It’s quality first, then after that, there are no guidelines. How I look at my store is an open door policy. I look at the needs of my customers at the time. If there’s a popular genre of books, comic books or movies at the time I try to have that available for customers.

Two weeks ago when the antique road show was in town one of the book appraisers came by the shop. We talked and traded stories for two hours. He left with a big stack of books, including a book about Pittsburgh industry. He found something here about his hometown in Pittsburgh that he really liked. He said It was his favorite book.

How long have you worked within the comic book and bookstore industry? I’ve worked in a variety of IT positions but I ended up back here working in a bookstore. First time I ever helped my dad I was 20. I ran a comic book store for over 10 years. I’ve had no formal training or schooling. I’ve been managing a book store for over 15 years. I don’t view my position as a bookstore manager. I don’t consider this a store. It’s a shop. It’s my family.

My comic book store was called Comics Unlimited. It was a little shop in Speedway by the race track. It was so organized and perfect. When I started the store, it was comic books and cards and later grew until I had over 140,000 comic books. I keep comic books around because it’s my comfort zone. I know comic books very well. I’ve been reading them since I was 10 years old.

How has your bookstore impacted the neighborhood? I’m very humble about it. I don’t brag. It’s just a good place to go. There’s not many places to hang out in in Garfield Park. No businesses have really been in this neighborhood. I’ve had people come from all over the city and out of state to visit the bookstore.

I’ve had people for years that when they would be in town they would come to visit. I been in this neighborhood for 15 years. I was here in Garfield Park on Shelby Street as a starting corner spot. I’d like Big Car to help out the neighborhood. There has to be something here for the people. It’s a good start to a change that Big Car is doing.