Back In Print: BookMarx revitalizes bookstores, Steubenville
Step inside BookMarx Bookstore, a double storefront property with event flyers plastered on its front windows, and one might recall a different time. The days back before free-shipping giants like Amazon took the literary marketplace by storm.
Reading couches, placed near the streaming sunlight in the entranceway promises a sanctuary. Meanwhile, aisles of books incite intellectual illumination. Indeed, it seems BookMarx is the kind of store that’s a longstanding small-town centerpiece.
Yet the BookMarx is a new addition to the town, as the store opened just last December. The idea for BookMarx Bookstore, owned and operated by Peter and Patricia Marx, evolved since 2002 when Peter, an Army veteran and Steubenville native planned to move back north.
Following his passion for literature and reading, he decided to start an online book service. As an online service, BookMarx did fine, but Peter wanted to bring it to the next step. He found that when he decided to make BookMarx a more physical domain by opening his own bookstore.
A Certain Ambience
There’s a nice parallel between BookMarx and Peter and Patricia’s relationship. Together since 2003, the BookMarx name was incorporated by 2004, back when it was in Atlanta. Peter started BookMarx as a means to sell some books in a pre-Amazon era and soon found it a full-time business.
By the time Peter’s business transformed, their relationship grew even more serious. Peter continued to work on the book side, while Patricia helped attract customers. It was not until 2008, however, when they decided to move their work into Peter’s original Ohio grounds. He moved his business to Steubenville, while Patricia stayed in Atlanta to continue to sell books online.
Despite an initial boom in business, things did not go well for BookMarx at first. While it attracted some local friends, the bookstore could not drum up enough customer flow to keep the store open. Much like many independent bookstores across the country, BookMarx found its doors closed by the end of December 2012.
“A book store needs a certain kind of ambiance,” Peter says over the phone. “You can go into any strip mall and open up a store. But it didn’t have enough space. It was a bookstore you walk in and it was shelves and shelves of books.”
Thriving again as an online-only resource back in Atlanta with Patricia, BookMarx—the store—was unexpectedly reborn when Peter got a call from Thomas Chmelovski’s widow. Tom was a regular customer of Peter’s before his passing and the Chmelovskis knew Peter and his love of books and wanted to sell his 17,000 theology books for a reasonable price.
The defunct company now housed thousands of antique theology books. They also found out an open location in Steubenville. The “stars seemed to align,” Peter felt. They both decided to go to Ohio to bring BookMarx, the store, back.
“We’re trying to bring vibrancy to the community as well,” Patricia says over the phone. “We want to cater the community. We have an idea, we want to work on that more.”
The return of BookMarx Bookstore to Steubenville, however, was not the Marxes’ end goal. They want to connect to both the town and the nearby students and faculty at Franciscan University, Steubenville’s local Catholic college. Because of this, they are not only back, but also hope to expand. They want to revitalize Steubenville.
The biggest change from 2012 to 2014 was the store’s location. BookMarx moved down the street from 151 N. 4th Street to 181 N. 4th Street. It is an agreeable location, and while they enjoy their new store, they certainly have bigger ideas in mind. Since its inception, BookMarx remained a homey source to find rare books, CDs, VHS tapes and other assorted items.
But Peter wants to do more than sell pieces of entertainment and resource. He wants to give Steubenville a comfortable source of interconnected activity and kinship. It will utilize the students’ desire to find a nice spot to study and unwind. It will also give older residents the chance to meet together and form their own bonds.
Peter hopes to renovate, using some extra space to build an up-and-down stairs fixture to give more room for students to study. He also wants to provide a spot for local authors to read their works and for musicians to perform.
When operating the business, Peter primarily works the book side of things, while Patricia serves coffee and helps manage the store. The store’s lovely interior and coffee shop are thanks to her. Peter admits the store would not be what it is today were it not for his wife. She makes sure everything runs smoothly and continues to provide ideas on how to expand BookMarx and captivate Steubenville’s revenue.
“Patricia has really been the front-person to put this new store together,” Peter says.
Another person to thank for BookMarx’s reemerged success is Marc Barnes. He is a Franciscan University senior who founded The Harmonium Project, a student-run organization that works to bring life to downtown Steubenville. Peter contacted Barnes on the street when he saw Barnes and his Harmonium team put up flyers and promotions around local businesses.
Telling Barnes their mission, Barnes found Peter and Patricia had similar aspirations and goals in mind for Steubenville. They then collaborated excessively together over the summer as the bookstore worked on its return.
Whether it was setting up the theology room for the store or making an organization system for all of the books in check, the Harmonium Project provided a lot of help to BookMarx. They do that work because they believe BookMarx can stabilize Steubenville’s uprising.
“I saw in BookMarx a store for revitalization and a source for customers and opportunities,” Barnes says over the phone. “I think it’s important for a number of reasons. I mainly see it as an active source of hope. It proves local businesses can be profitable and economical, and that gives people inspiration. It also is a real sign of creativity in downtown Steubenville.”
While the storeowners are proud to hold such a high number of classic theology books in their collection, thanks to the Chmelovski’s family, they have more than such studious books in their quarters. The store prides itself in its wealthy variety of different books, ranging from fiction to how-to texts.
A Welcome Addition
In the short time they have been in Steubenville, Peter and Patricia connected nicely with its southeast Ohio quarters. The storeowners extended their good intentions and embrace their feedback and characters. It has paid off handsomely thus far for the business couple, as their reception is warm and accepting.
“They are a very welcome addition,” says Susan Probert, president of Steubenville Revitalization Group, over the phone. “I think [Peter has] done a really good job of understanding his market and providing books that meet that market…. They’ve got a nice collective gathering of books. I’ve bought books on philosophy and gardening, and it’s a great browsing place.”
Especially in the post-Amazon age, in which bookstores across the country continuously grow obsolete, both the storeowners, along with Probert, feel it is important to have this place in their town. Not just as a means of getting books, but as a collective source for local events and affairs.
“It opens doors for creative minds and for people to see that Steubenville is a place for profit and accessibility,” Barnes says.