It feels more like a great hangout than a bookstore. It resembles someone’s living room with lots of books, open space, soft seating, colorful art, plants, a huge picture window, decorative light fixtures, one massive wall shelf, strategically-placed tables and carts with books and even a couple of ’70s-style, high-back wicker chairs similar to the one seen in Huey P. Newton’s iconic photo positioned for effect. And ’90s R&B resounds.
With such a cultural vibe, you might come for a book or two but will stay for the dialogue — the exchange of thoughts and ideas about everything from some of the best places to eat in the city to your favorite travel destinations.
It’s the ThirdSpace Reading Room.
A brand extension of ThirdSpace Action Lab, ThirdSpace Reading Room is located at 1464 E. 105th St. on the first floor of The Madison in the space once occupied by the Black-owned Deuteronomy 8:3 Cafe Books & Music. It is the only African American bookstore in the Glenville community. And Glenville native Harry Atwell, who manages the bookstore and activities happening in “the space,” is captain of the ship.
“They had the idea to open the bookstore from the beginning,” says Atwell, speaking of owners Evelyn Burnett and Mordecai Cargill. “The pandemic put things on hold.”
Burnett and Cargill, both Glenville residents, are the masterminds behind Third Action Lab, a consultancy created to disrupt the vicious cycle of disinvestment and displacement that exploits low-income communities of color.
“They truly love this community,” says Atwell. “Both are avid readers and wanted to make books accessible.”
Atwell’s official title is community manager. He learned about the position through a mutual friend, Celia Williamson. She and Burnett have maintained a “bestie” relationship since their college days at The University of Akron.
Williamson sent Atwell the job description, asking him if he knew
someone who would be interested. Atwell, who left Cleveland State University before graduating to care for his aging grandmother and had worked at the Cleveland Clinic for 17 years, then Crate & Barrel, took a chance, raised his hand, saying, “Umm, me.”
He joined ThirdSpace Reading Room just before the grand opening on June 17, 2022.
“It’s been amazing,” he says. “It’s one of those things where I didn’t know what to expect. But I don’t think anyone could’ve been better prepared.”
Most importantly, Atwell enjoys reading — a passion he picked up from his grandparents, he says.
“I love getting lost in books. I love an actual book,” says Atwell. “I love learning about people.”
ThirdSpace Reading Room also serves as the bookseller at events outside the space, such as the Great Lakes African American Writers Conference fundraiser, which hosted renowned African American food writer Toni Tipton Martin at Landerhaven last September. In addition, Tipton Martin’s books can be purchased at the store.
For varying prices, a mixture of rare, old and new books can be found in ThirdSpace Reading Room. Atwell recalls discovering a first or second edition of a Langston Hughes book. The libraries, Anisfield Wolf/Cleveland Foundation and people from the neighborhood have donated inventory.
Atwell adds that the community is starting to embrace the space, and foot traffic is increasing. “Having books in the windows indicates to people that we are a bookstore,” he says.
Happy about his chance, Atwell is still taking it all in and developing ideas to keep the business and physical space evolving. The latter allows his interest in interior design to kick in.
“Every time I come in here, it looks different,” says Burnett. She calls Atwell the “real rockstar” of ThirdSpace Reading Room.
Atwell welcomes all into the space to hang out, read and shop anytime the lights are on.
Williamson says it’s been a “group dream” creating this “third space.” A Cleveland native who grew up in Glenville, graduated from John Hay and recently returned from the New York City area, she is an interior designer — a passion she and Atwell share.
“It’s been such a joy to watch Harry make the space his own,” she says. “I want everyone to walk away happy.”
Photographer Amber Ford, a frequent visitor, thinks ThirdSpace
Reading Room is great for Cleveland’s East Side.
“They are building a space people want to spend time in,” she says. “It can become a new staple for the community. And, it’s Black-owned.”
Ford, a younger millennial/Gen Z-er, loves hearing the “back in the day” stories while at ThirdSpace Reading Room and says Burnett and Cargill have a way of making people feel welcomed.
“This space, being in the neighborhood, makes you feel ownership,” she says.
Dr. Adam Banks, professor of writing and rhetoric at Stanford University, grew up in the Hough community and lives up the road on Wade Park Ave. When not reading academic works, he enjoys anything about music. He loves music biographies. Some of his favorites are about Herbie Hancock, Curtis Mayfield and Aretha Franklin.
Banks always tries to support independent bookstores. Mac’s Backs-Books on Coventry and Loganberry Books on Larchmere are a couple he frequents most often. Missing Black-owned stores such as Timbuktu and Ethic Arts, once staples for Cleveland-based African American readers, he says having ThirdSpace Reading Room in the neighborhood is “necessary.”
“We need far more spaces like it in every other neighborhood,” he says. “What is so crucial about ThirdSpace is they welcome people as they are. It’s a space not just for books but space for actual community.”
Banks also points out that with the “major loss” from Hough Branch Library moving from Kenmore Ave., behind the Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza, to E. 66th Street and Lexington Ave., ThirdSpace is even more important.
“Without it, there’s a lack of any other place to access books, information and community in this neighborhood,” he says. “And, it’s important to note they are continuing the legacy of Deuteronomy 8:3.”
ThirdSpace Reading Room is open Wednesday through Saturday from Noon to 4 p.m. Books can also be ordered online.