When I walked into Point Breeze’s Bottom Food Book, I was greeted by the owner of Ryan McLennan’s new dog, Sky. She stood up gracefully on her hind legs, putting her feet up on the counter. “She wants to greet customers,” McLennan said.
After a minute of basking in my attention, she lay back to sleep on the floor and head right to sleep: a perfect bookstore dog.
She fits the atmosphere of the store, which is clear and well-edited without losing the sense of touch that makes it feel alive. It’s strikingly open and uncluttered, with minimal white walls and shelves floating above dark wood and brick. Poster for Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Born — Danish filmmaker’s latest film about love, both wonderful and immiserating — hanged by letter Register. “I did everything,” McLennan told me. “I built all the shelves, all the counters.”
Bottom Feeder Books opened its doors about six months ago in late July. Before that, McLennan lived and worked around the country, including at Chop Suey Books, in Richmond, Va. The New York Times for its wide selection. “I just learned a lot there,” he said of the experience. “You get a lot of students coming in and seeing what they read, one thing leads to another… You read interviews with all these painters and they talk about writers, you read interviews with these filmmakers and they talk about painters and poets,” he said.
After leaving Richmond, he moved to Brooklyn to paint, exhibiting in galleries in the city. Eventually, he landed a job at Stumptown Coffee, which brought him to Portland, Ore., where he left in 2020 for Pittsburgh. He knew right away when he got here that he wanted to open a bookstore, but it took a while. “I have thousands of books, but I keep buying, and saving money, and trying to find the right place.”
McLennan sources Bottom Feeder stock from all over: trips to Ohio, Maryland, and West Virginia, library sales, and even some unnamed place in Pittsburgh. “Since I’ve been open, I’ll call houses to look at things if they know I’m looking or interested.”
He is most interested in finding original prints, with an emphasis on literature (especially modern texts, I note), art, and film.
“What I feel confident about is what happened in the ’80s. But I’m looking for things all the time.” He emphasized affordability as an important indicator, too. “I price based on what I can find for sale online, but I try to be lower than that. I’m always looking for cheap things… There are a lot of things on the shelf that are $5, because I don’t want people to feel like they can’t buy anything.”
“There are a lot of things that can be special for the right people,” McLennan said.
He has a point. I think about the list of books I’ve collected at Bottom Feeder over the past few months, something – like reading someone’s playlist – reveals more about me than the book itself: P. Adams Sitney’s avant-garde film Bible Vision film, an art book focusing on pioneering female artist Carolee Schneeman, a vintage version of an early Henry James novel I’d never heard of. Later, I was thrilled when he pulled out a gorgeous old coffee table book about Pier Paolo Pasolini’s films, which he told me was “my favorite book here… I’ve never seen another book before.”
McLennan also began sharing hosting events with local independent publishers such as Todd Sanders of Air and Nothingness Press and Emma Honcharski of Local Food Publishing. Dinner Bell Magazine. “I want to do more activities, because it brings people into the store.”
McLennan showed me a small room in the back that was under construction. “I’m still working on the ceiling, I need to paint it… but this is essentially a showroom.” He hopes to host an art exhibit, in addition to expanding the store’s catalog with more signings and readings, or possibly a film screening.
At the end of our conversation, I mentioned that I was haunted by a copy of the filmmaker Eric Rohmer. Six Moral Tales That was shown in the last few months. McLennan immediately lit up, telling me he couldn’t believe no one had bought it yet. “It’s so hard to find,” he said, and tapped the counter for continued emphasis, “and it’s cheaper than anywhere else I’ve ever seen it!”
Readers, I bought the book when it came out. After all, if the books on the Bottom Feeder are just lying around waiting for the right person to find them, why delay the inevitable when they are found?
Bottom Feeder book. 415 Gettysburg St., Point Breeze. bottomfeederbooks.com