Back on Square One

Oct 31, 2000

Northern Ohio Live Magazine, November 2000

by Anton Zuiker

Thursday, November 9, 7:30 a.m., Shaker Square

Eleven steps down, two doors out, and a few paces along North Moreland Boulevard, Richard Gildenmeister strolls from his book-cluttered apartment where he’s lived for 34 years. In 1976 he was similarly stepping out, on his way to the first day of The Richard Gildenmeister Bookshop on the Square. This morning, not as slim but just as feisty, he’s on his way to another new bookstore.

But first he walks around his beloved Square, stopping to admire the trees he had planted in the median in the mid-Eighties, and to inhale the inviting aroma of chicken paprikash already wafting from Balaton Restaurant. He says hello to a dozen acquaintances, nods at the RTA driver tooting her horn, gazes west down the tracks toward rural Bellevue 75 miles away. Ever since the day in 1942, when his parents brought him to see Santa Claus at the downtown department stores and the holiday lights around Shaker Square, he’s been in love with the city, and especially the Square.

Stopping before 13214 Shaker Square, he remembers Dorothy Fuldheim with yellow roses, ready to cut the ribbon to his namesake bookshop, while Mayor Ralph Perk proclaims the store an important beacon in the revitalization of the depressed Shaker Square. Later today, Joseph-Beth Booksellers takes up that mantle as the cornerstone in the redevelopment of the square. It fills nearly the entire quadrant once partly occupied by the Stouffer restaurant. With a glass elevator, spiral staircase and central fireplace, the independent Joseph-Beth megastore will be a 36,000-square-foot redoubt of literacy, stocking 122,000 book titles, as well as luggage in the travel section, candles in the aromatherapy aisle, and bird baths in the gardening corner. Kids will have their own realm, and live local musicians on the second floor pinpoint the CD section. The attached Brontë, a bistro-style café, wine bar and coffee den, seems a good place to settle with an armful of magazines.

Richard, the newly appointed Master Bookseller, will enter the store before it opens, skipping through the aisles, caressing the bookcases, straightening hardbacks on the new fiction table. He’s ready to brandish a comprehensive knowledge of the store, and to mentor the sales staff in the rules of bookselling. It’s been forty-five years since he came to Cleveland and began working for the Higbee Company Bookshop. Neil Van Um, a St. Ignatius graduate who owns other Joseph-Beth bookstores in Cincinnati and Lexington, heard Richard knows books and hired him on the spot.

The doors will open in a moment. Richard’s thrilled to be back on the Square, though he’ll say he really never left. Before long he’ll be finding you a book, maybe a favorite title or that hip new novel you heard about on TV. To put it in your hands gives Richard all the reason he needs to tie his shoes in the morning, step out of his digs, and walk across the square.

Joseph-Beth Booksellers, 13271 Shaker Square, Cleveland, (216) 751-3300, www.josephbeth.com.

Anton Zuiker

© 2000 Zuiker Chronicles Publishing, LLC