Midtown Mirage

The $2 Rare Bookstore isn't the tidy, well-lighted place you walk into seeking a particular title. It's the dim, dusty, ill-heated cavern dreamed of by people H.L. Mencken dubbed the "bibliobibuli"--those who are drunk on books.

Thirty-nine-year-old former house painter Chris Uram understands this condition, because it was his own book mania that led him to open the store last year. After decades of feeding his passion for volumes on Greek and Roman history, Uram found that his hoard was outgrowing his living space. So he did what many crowded collectors do: He went into business.

The brightly colored, handpainted signs in front of his store at 6280 Euclid Ave. make it hard to miss but easy to dismiss. The signs seem a little garish, the midtown location a bit unlikely. One expects maybe a few forlorn tables stacked with remainders.

Inside, a different tale unfolds. The 16,000-square-foot space holds thousands of books spanning more than a century, all carefully categorized and shelved for the pleasure of both the casual browser and the bibliophile. There's also a steady stream of customers. "I'm making money," says Uram. "I'm not shy about that."

Books are stacked from floor to ceiling here, and the industrial-strength shelves hold a startling selection. Anyone who has tried to locate the biography section at Borders (answer: There is none) will be assuaged by the arcane specialties here--"Oceanography," "Papermaking," "Armenian."

There are indeed rare books here. A recent expedition turned up John Clark Ridpath's The Life and Times of William E. Gladstone, its flyleaf inscribed in a flowing antique hand: "Gladstone, one of my choicest gems--Lawrence Davidson, 1898." But Uram's less interested in purveying rarities than in making good books available to everyone. "This is meant to be an inexpensive bookstore," he says.

In fact, the $2 price seems to be more of a guideline than a rule. Carry a foot-high stack of books to his counter, and Uram gives it no more than a cursory appraisal. "How about $5?" he suggests.

"My cost of buying books is very low," Uram explains. "I purchase them by the truckload from dealers, libraries, and collectors. And I've been blessed with a very reasonable rent."

He doesn't consider himself an urban pioneer for opening a business in Euclid Avenue's faded midsection; he lives in this neighborhood. And he dismisses the "comeback city" notion, because for him, the city never left.

"There's a strong tradition of education here," he says. "Cleveland is a great book town."

--Pamela Zoslov

The $2 Rare Bookstore, 6820 Euclid Ave., is open Monday through Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. Call 216-881-1800.

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