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Jim McCormac is a “Natural” Philosopher

Jim McCormac is a “Natural” Philosopher

To be clear, a “naturalist” has nothing to do with nudity. Rather, a naturalist is someone who studies and unearths discoveries about natural history, and in Southeast Ohio, there are always new mysteries to solve. Thanks to the region’s rugged topography and abundance of woodlands, […]

Back In Print: BookMarx revitalizes bookstores, Steubenville

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.

Bookmarx 1 edit

Extra Space

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.

by Will Ashton

Monroe County is the Switzerland of Ohio

Monroe County is the Switzerland of Ohio

Driving around Monroe County’s jutting hills and past protruding cliffs of layered limestone, a world traveler might compare the region to Bern, Switzerland. In the early 19th century, the region’s geography is exactly what attracted Swiss and German immigrants. Remnants of Swiss and German traditions […]

Ohio University Professor Turns Fear Into Art

Ohio University Professor Turns Fear Into Art

The Idea The idea for The Fear Project was inspired by a kitchen table conversation. After Ohio University Professor Julie M. Elman asked her husband to describe a personal fear to her, she paired his words with a doodle. Now, three years later, the Fear […]

Portsmouth’s Bypass Basics

Portsmouth’s Bypass Basics

The Southern Ohio Veterans Memorial Highway, a concept first discussed 51 years ago, will bypass Portsmouth in Scioto County.

According to the Ohio Department of Transportation, the highway is the largest project in ODOT history and also the first project to use the concept of public-private partnership, a contract between ODOT and the Portsmouth Gateway Group. The highway will provide both easier access to the surrounding area for residents and trucks that are traveling to larger cities.

About the highway:

  • Avoids 30 traffic signals
  • Bypasses 26 miles of U.S. Highway 52 and U.S. Highway 23 through Portsmouth
  • $429 million
  • 16 miles long
  • Saves an average of 16 minutes of time
  • Scheduled project completion: 2019
  • 13,000-14,000 cars a day using the bypass
  • 7,000 of those cars will be local residents
  • 3,500-5,000 of the vehicles will be truck traffic
  • That leaves 1,200-2,000 vehicles a day actually bypassing Portsmouth
  • And a total of 20,000 vehicles using the bypass

by Ali Shultz

Region Pins Economic Hopes on Former Atomic Plant Site

Region Pins Economic Hopes on Former Atomic Plant Site

For nearly half a century the A-Plant, as it was known by locals, employed thousands of people in a region infamous for its chronic poverty. Today, nearly 2,000 people are employed to safely decommission it. The Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Pike County, which for […]

Ohio’s Abandoned Schools Situation

Ohio’s Abandoned Schools Situation

A bright, red roof seems to float atop the condemned building’s ghostly aura. The windows, many of them broken, protect the desolate indoors with metal caging. A sign on the padlocked door warns trespassers to stay out. Nearby, a lone bulldozer stands silently atop a […]

The Driving Force of Superloads

The Driving Force of Superloads

Most Southeast Ohio drivers have probably experienced the displeasure of driving disruptions caused by superloads. These gigantic vehicles haul oversized loads of goods on Ohio highways.  To move these enormous shipments, the state highway patrol must evacuate the roads to make way.  While some see the massive loads as an inconvenience, others acknowledge the delay as a sign of the state’s growing economy.

The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) defines a “superload” as any vehicle or load that is either wider than 14 feet, taller than 14 feet 6 inches or has a gross vehicle weight greater than 120,000 pounds.  Like semitractor-trailers, superloads haul a plethora of goods and materials ranging from oil and gas to manufactured products.  According to ODOT, more than 63,000 superload permits alone were issued in 2014.

ODOT Public Information Officer Becky Giauque cites 2011 policy changes as one explanation for the increase in superload movement. That year, ODOT decreased the minimum vehicle requirements. This change permitted more vehicles to pass through Ohio, instead of routing around it.

Despite the highway closures and inevitable traffic that come with superload moves, Giauque says the department does not receive frequent complaints.  “As far as people being stuck in traffic, I think that’s a small component of the big picture,” Giauque says.  “In general, people are pretty tolerant and realize that these loads are moving Ohio’s economy forward.”

Coordinating a superload move is procedural: Haulers must submit a detailed application of their load, which ODOT then scrutinizes for traffic density, routing and safety to the public.  Once the load passes inspection, ODOT determines the necessary equipment needed for safe passage and begins to lay out a timeline for the move.  On the day of the move, traffic control must then communicate with State Highway Patrol, local utility companies as well as the hauler to move the colossal load safely through the region’s narrow highways.

Superload drivers face different challenges than those associated with conventional trucking.  John Scarfo has been a truck driver for 30 years and has worked as a superload driver for Hill Crane for the last 20 of those years.  Scarfo says his responsibilities include hauling cranes and making sure his load is secure and meets weight requirements.  But unlike some superloads, Scarfo’s cargo does not require a highway shut down just a police escort to help maneuver the haul.

Scarfo says the most difficult aspects of driving a superload are navigating detours and maneuvering around sharp corners.   He says that parts of Ohio are notorious for small roads and awkward angles. “I like the challenge of it.  Being able to move something as big as you’re moving,” Scarfo says.

Superload driver Matt Peters echoes Scarfo’s love of the challenge, but says the biggest nuisance for him is staying on course with the oversized load. “Sometimes you might have 30 routes just across Ohio,” Peters says. “You have to take time and study your route.”

Drivers certainly do “take time” to pass through the routes.  According to Peters, superload drivers are only permitted to drive about 50 mph, limiting trips to a snail’s pace.

Despite the hassle and headache of transporting over half a ton of materials, both drivers say the most rewarding part of the job is getting from point A to point B.

“I like it a lot,” Scarfo says. “I’ve been going a long time and I really do like it.”

by Alyssa Pasicnyk

Diamonds Aren’t Forever: Appalachia Tells Its Story Decades Later

Diamonds Aren’t Forever: Appalachia Tells Its Story Decades Later

Ghost towns, as lifeless as the rusty rivers that bleed throughout the region, dot the ancient hills of Appalachia. Tired and empty train tracks function as little more than speed bumps for the few motorists cruising on Perry County’s country roads. Occasionally, a train will […]