Comfort and Joy in Downtown Steubenville

Comfort and Joy in Downtown Steubenville December 10, 2017



I was recently informed by a disgruntled reader that I “literally threw the entire population of Steubenville under the bus.”

I wish I remembered that occasion. There are days when I’d like to think back on it with grim satisfaction.

In any case, what the gentleman was trying to say was that I never write anything nice about Steubenville; I only write about its flaws. Obviously, there are plenty of flaws to write about. Practically everyone admits that. The place is a dump. Several years ago, when Kimberly Hahn ran for town council, she took out an entire televised ad to complain about the fact that there wasn’t anything good to eat in town and you had to drive to Pennsylvania to find restaurants.

And you know? She was absolutely right. I voted for her, and she won. But sometimes I wonder if she shouldn’t have just cut out the middle man and opened a restaurant herself.

In any case, I dislike quite a lot about Steubenville and I’m open about that, because the monomaniacal insistence that this is a special and authentically Catholic place bothers me.  But I don’t hate everything here, not by a long shot. I love Rural King. The public libraries are excellent. There’s a nice antique cemetery with truly majestic trees. The Friendship Room is everything it ought to be. And, as I’ve mentioned already this month, we put on an excellent spectacle at Christmas. The Nutcracker Village is first rate.

Yesterday I was downtown for another spectacle. We had the annual “Sights and Sounds of Christmas Parade,”  an event I wouldn’t miss. There’s something very endearing about small-town parades and the way every tiny business builds a float. The library was represented by its bookmobile with pictures of nutcrackers taped to the windows; the local bus company brought out its bus that looks like a trolley; the martial arts dojo had its youngest class punching its way down Fourth Street in black pajamas. A gun shop sponsored a pickup truck with several large gift-wrapped packages in the back marked “Guns” and “More Guns.” Employees of the gun shop were handing out handbills that I presumed had a coupon on them, but I didn’t get to see ours because Michael the radical pacifist  grimly tore it up, muttering about normalization of gun violence. And, of course, there were marching bands. One good consequence of living in a small town obsessed with high school football is that there are a huge number of middle and high school marching bands, and they are top quality. I love a good marching band.

It was a cold day to be standing outside for so long. After awhile, Rosie had a meltdown.

I brought her inside the “Bookmarx” bookstore near where we were standing. Bookmarx is yet another thing I enjoy about Steubenville. It feels like the Djinn abducted a friendly used bookshop from a prosperous part of the country in a wholesome time and transported it to the worst part of the Ohio Valley. On an icy street in a town full of grim poverty, with a good half of the store fronts abandoned to the dust– suddenly, there’s a used book shop.

Bookmarx has a space heater near the front desk, and Rosie warmed herself at the space heater. It has comfy leather armchairs and a hot chocolate machine; she drank the hot chocolate I bought, and watched the parade from a leather armchair. It has a children’s section with a little low table and lots of old, comforting-smelling children’s books, which Rosie perused when the parade was finished.

It also has a cat– a truly regal cat, black like a witch’s familiar, fat as an ottoman, dressed in a red and green jingle bell collar. Rosie and I knelt on the floor of the bookstore playing with the cat; then Rosie followed the cat around while I browsed. I salivated after a set of Aristophanes plays, a great big coffee table book on the impressionists, and a Heironymous Bosch calendar.

Then I noticed the Back Room.

You know how most used bookstores have a Back Room that you try not to think about? Bookmarx has a Back Room. It’s not only way in the back of the shop, but also around a dark corner I had to turn sideways to get through. There were young men and women about university age, quietly looking at the merchandise in the Back Room. Out of curiosity, I did too.

It was all theology textbooks. The Back Room of Bookmarx bookstore doesn’t sell anything nasty. It’s stuffed full of gently used theology textbooks, Catholic and Protestant, plus a very small selection of crosses and icons.

I knew I couldn’t afford it, but I am the worst kind of poor person, the kind of poor person that Austin Ruse would hold in frank contempt. I bought a four-dollar Greek Orthodox Saint Nicholas icon. I also bought the Heironymous Bosch calendar.

I don’t know how the Djinn got Bookmarx to downtown Steubenville, but I’m doing my part to make sure it stays there. You can too, if you’d like.

(Image via Pixabay)

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