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City Places for City People
Beyond Borders in Pittsburgh

Erin Hutton, 2011

Jodi Morrison stands behind the counter of the former Borders bookstore in jeans and a dark tank top updating flyers and watching the first customers of the day browse the shelves of her store. Jodi is the mastermind of the temporary bookstore Fleeting Pages, which occupies the empty box of Borders Eastside in Pittsburgh. It's been there since May 7th and will close June 4th.

"This has been my life for the past six weeks," Jodi said in late May, "Just this. It's great."

From the inception of the idea, the bookstore was always meant to be temporary. When Borders Group announced it was closing 200 or more stores, including their Centre Avenue location in Pittsburgh, Jodi saw an opportunity to put her idea into action and in a matter of weeks, Fleeting Pages opened its doors.

Jodi rented the vast, empty bookstore space with big windows, abandoned bookshelves, and leftover signs for Borders books and café. She put out an open call for local writers and artists to bring their books for her to stock as well as to host readings, workshops, and other literary events. All the books at Fleeting Pages are from small independent presses or were self-published. Most of the writers are local. You won't find Nora Roberts paperback romances or Stephen King horror stories.

Instead, the shelves are filled with crime stories set in Pittsburgh, memoirs of Pennsylvania writers, travel guides, volumes of poetry, picture books for children, literary magazines, romance novels, and offbeat comic books among many others. The shelves are not as full as they were when Borders occupied the space, but Jodi managed to acquire a little bit of everything.

In addition to books, Fleeting Pages sells handmade note cards and journals, picture postcards of Pittsburgh graffiti, and mini day planners.

All the items are in support of the Fleeting Pages slogan: indies exist beyond borders.

"The idea of the store is to get people talking about books and bookstores again," Jodi, who looked tired but satisfied, told a customer confused by her pop-up, temporary presence in the space.

When even the big box stores that overtook many independent booksellers start closing locations, bibliophiles start to get a little uneasy about the future of the book and bookstores. With the advent of the Internet and e-readers like Kindle and Nook, how much longer will people buy books? Or, come to that, newspapers and magazines? For now, there are still many.

Fleeting Pages store has a steady stream of customers, has at least one event booked every day, and sells books. Jodi even sold out of some titles and requested more copies from the authors.

Still, the store isn't financially sustainable, but as a temporary store it doesn't need to be. More than anything, it is Jodi's dream and a successful investment.

"I'm hoping to break even," said Jodi, "but I'm prepared not to." Jodi knew going in that the costs of running the store would be high and she had a limited market. She noted that not everyone buys books, and of those many buy them online instead of at the store. Of the population that buys books at bookstores only a fraction of those are interested in independent titles.

But the customers are coming in and the community provides support. Local writers, artists, and book enthusiasts are volunteering do everything from shelving books to updating flyers to hosting writing workshops. The small local coffee chain Tazza D'Oro sells coffee and cookies from the former Seattle's Best Café where customers can linger over recently purchased indie books or just chat in a literary atmosphere.

Jodi doesn't yet know if she will pop-up again in Pittsburgh, but she has heard of other temporary bookstores in progress in other cities including Chicago and San Francisco.

Jodi's next project is opening a used bookstore in the former swimming pool at the Carnegie Library in Braddock. Jodi is a Braddock resident who, like many Braddock residents, is dedicated to revitalizing the neighborhood. The swimming pool at the library has been out of use for decades and the cost of restoring it as a swimming pool is astronomical. "It's a great space, though," said Jodi. A donation area is setup inside Fleeting Pages for books that she will use to begin populating the bookstore.

If you can't make it to Fleeting Pages, look for Jodi in Braddock, keep your ear to the ground for other pop-up projects across the country, and visit the Fleeting Pages website at shop.fleetingpages.com, where you can order many of the books on sale at the temporary store.

Erin Hutton