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April 09, 2019

Penn Book Center closing in May after 57 years on 34th Street

Businesses University of Pennsylvania
0409_PennBookCenter Penn Book Center/Google Maps

Penn Book Center, one of the city's oldest indie book stores, is closing in May.

Penn Book Center, an independently-owned book shop that's been operating in University City since 1962, announced on Monday it will close in May.

The shop's owners Ashley Montague and Michael Row released a statement, saying the "explosive growth of online book sales at cut-rate prices has made selling books in brick and mortar stores a difficult proposition." 

Montague and Row purchased the Penn Book Center, at 34th and Sansom streets, in 2005 from the original owners — Achilles and Olga Nickles — who founded the store in 1962 with Peter Nickles.

The news came as a shock to the community, as Penn Book Center has been a hub for readings and events in connection with literary magazines, zines, organizations, and nonprofits in Philadelphia. It often has supported local writers with readings and promotional events.

Here's the full statement about Penn Book Center closing from the shop's owners

"Dear Penn Book Center customers, 

We are writing to you with great sadness to say that we are closing the Penn Book Center at the end of May. 

As many of you know, the explosive growth of online book sales at cut-rate prices has made selling books in brick and mortar stores a difficult proposition.

In response to this challenging environment, two years ago we shifted our focus away from course sales, dramatically increasing our in-store events, running book clubs, changing the store layout to focus on trade sales, and extending our hours," the statement read.

We're really proud of the changes we've made. We've had an amazing roster of store readings, one that reflects the strength and diversity of literary culture in Philadelphia. We've also been able to attract amazing visiting readers, including Rebecca Traister, Eve Ewing, Carol Anderson, and Eileen Myles. 

We are so grateful to our brilliant events coordinator Erik Beranek and to our events partners Blue Stoop, the All But True Reading Series, the ICA and Penn's Center for Africana Studies for making this happen. We love our new store layout, which features an expanded children's section and more tables for browsing. 

As happy as we are with these changes, however, they have not generated the sales we need to stay open. We feel so lucky to have been able to purchase the Penn Book Center in 2005 from Achilles and Olga Nickles, who founded the store with Peter Nickles in 1962.

We believed and still believe that the Penn Book Center is a very unusual place, a product of its location in the intellectual hub that is University City. We've been able to carry books that you won't find in many bookstores, but which appeal to the students, professors, and researchers surrounding us. Being in the midst of all this intellectual ferment has shaped our inventory, and we have treasured the intellectual exchanges we've had with our wonderful customers. We have learned so much from you, and we are very grateful for your support over the years. 

We can't say enough about our booksellers, who have done such a fantastic job welcoming customers to the store and placing just the right book in people's hands. We are especially grateful to head bookseller James Gleeson for his incredible knowledge of books and his unfailing cheerful presence behind the counter.

We'll be having events through the end of May. Towards the end of April, we will begin marking down our stock so there will be lots of great deals. We hope you'll take the opportunity to stop in and say goodbye in the next few months. 

Ashley Montague and Michael Row 

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