Want to buy a book? You have more options today than ever before. Our species’ collective oeuvre of written works has increased exponentially since the dawn of recorded history, with more being created and published every day. Between online shopping and a bevy of large chain retailers with massive inventories, it can be hard to make up your mind on what to read and where to buy.
That’s why an independent bookstore like Downbound Books is so important in this age of overwhelming information: think “less is more,” with an abundance of thoughtful variety.
Opened Oct. 25 in Northside, Downbound Books is the newest addition to Cincinnati’s community of independently owned bookstores. A Cincinnati native, owner Gregory Kornbluh recently returned from a 13-year stint on the East Coast where he worked as a bookseller at a shop outside Boston and later in sales and marketing for Harvard University Press. He often traveled for work and along the way he visited many bookstores. In that time, he grew more certain that he wanted a bookstore of his own. There was some consideration for opening one out east, but the time and place didn’t fit his vision.
“It’s hard to be a neighborhood bookstore in the neighborhood that isn’t your neighborhood,” Kornbluh says. “The thing with Cincinnati is I couldn’t really imagine what I would do here other than open a bookstore. I lived in Northside before I left town; Northside is pretty much the only area I seriously considered opening a bookstore.”
Downbound Books occupies the former Park Café building on Apple Street. The building is now owned by Dave Cunningham, who also owns The Comet, another essential Northside destination. Kornbluh, who acknowledges that a lot of nights and money in his younger years were spent at The Comet, considers Cunningham a partner in Downbound Books. There are even plans in the works to host readings sponsored by Downbound Books at The Comet, which has a bit more space to accommodate crowds (plus a full bar).
Walk inside the store and there’s a table of featured releases directly facing the door. This serves as a centerpiece to two walls stacked with books. There are not as many sections separated by genre as you might see in other similarly sized shops, but that’s intentional.
“I was not going to have a section for everything and I didn’t want to be one of those small stores that tries to have everything and ends up with a five-book art section and a five-book business section,” Kornbluh says. “What we’ve done here, for a lot of things, is mash them together. I have a big non-fiction section: history is in there, philosophy, business is in there. It forces people to see stuff they might not have been looking for.”
The curation is why Downbound Books is a good place for readers interested in diversifying their reading material. Everything comes vetted to earn some of the limited shelf space. Kornbluh credits his friend and employee Sarah Fischer, who helped curate the cookbooks and children’s books, as having had a very big hand in how the store looks.
When asked what his customers read the most, Kornbluh disclosed the two top sellers in his first months of business are both about Cincinnati: The Ghosts of Eden Park: The Bootleg King, the Women Who Pursued Him, and the Murder That Shocked Jazz-Age America by Karen Abbott, a recent addition to The New York Times bestseller list, and Six Days in Cincinnati: A Graphic Account of the Riots That Shook the Nation a Decade Before Black Lives Matter by Dan Méndez Moore, a 2017 reprint of a graphic novel originally published in 2012 under the title Mark Twain Was Right: The 2001 Cincinnati Riots.
Downbound Books also offers crafts, stationery and novelty items from locals like Paper Acorn, Cryptogram Ink and Volcano Goods, with more to come. Kornbluh wants to feature local artists that fit the store’s identity and he’s been pleased with the response so far.
There are also plans to include audiobooks on the store’s website, which will enable digital downloads. While audiobooks are not a new concept, their popularity is at a cultural highpoint and it’s common sense for a modern store to offer them, even if they only account for a fraction of the sales of traditional books.
“I listen to things differently than I read them. When someone asks me if I’ve read something in the store and I listened to it instead of read it, I always say that because I do think it’s a different experience,” Kornbluh says. “I like to listen to memoirs because it’s almost always read by the author; it’s a different experience when someone is telling their own story.”
A great bookstore, Kornbluh says, not only serves a community, but creates a community around it.
“It’s been so long since we’ve had neighborhood bookstores everywhere,” Kornbluh says. “I think people don’t even remember what it’s like and what I’m hoping to do is remind people that books, literacy, reading and writing can bring people together.”
Through books, he notes that you can discover points of view, ideas and stories that you didn’t even know you were missing. He adds that Cincinnati’s literary scene is a strong one.
“The writing program at UC (University of Cincinnati) is terrific, they have a lot of writers that are affiliated with it as teaching faculty, but then they’re producing lots of writers,” Kornbluh says. “Joseph-Beth is wonderful, the Mercantile Library is wonderful, Blue Manatee Literacy Project is really great. There is a strong community here.”
For more on Downbound Books (4139 Apple Street, Northside), visit downboundbooks.com or call 513-541-1394.