A downtown retailer that survived three moves and twice that many recessions is closing the book on its business after 42 years.
Leo's Book Shop, which sold books, magazines, and newspapers to workers and visitors downtown since 1967, will close its doors for the last time by the end of the year, said Daryl Yourist, who has run his father's business since owner Leo Yourist retired several years ago.
“I don't have a choice,” said Mr. Yourist, who has worked in the business since he was 14. “It's hard. This is very emotional.”
When it first opened as Leo's Book & Wine Shop, Toledo had four large downtown department stores, a number of large banks headquartered in the neighborhood, and a handful of Fortune 500 companies operating downtown.
But that neighborhood — and most of the other retail shops that catered to those who worked there — are gone.
In many ways, Leo's was the last retail holdout of that era, outlasting Woolworth's, Lasalle's, Tiedtke's, and countless other retailers that have come and gone.
Mr. Yourist, who said he's been “mulling this over for six months,” said a number of factors conspired to kill his family's business: changing consumer trends toward online media, corporate decisions to relocate outside the city's central business district, and political decisions that made it harder to shop downtown.
Leo Yourist, left, pictured in 2003; he opened his downtown store more than four dec-ades ago. Daryl Yourist has worked in the retail book business since he was 14 years old.
LISA DUTTON / BLADE Enlarge
“It was both the death of print and the death of downtown. At this time, there's not a way for a middleman to make a living within the digital loop,” between writer and reader when everything is available online, Mr. Yourist said.
“But what really put the nail in the coffin was the arena. It created another downtown, and the planners didn't think about how it was going to affect the north side [of the arena].”
The bookstore is less than a block north of the arena, half a block south and across the street from the Valentine Theatre.
Mr. Yourist said aggressive parking meter enforcement also contributed because it lessened customer traffic. He had a parking ticket on his desk that he said he would pay for his attorney, and lamented that the only way small businesses could survive in the area is to have their own parking lots.
“When people get a $10 parking ticket because they've stayed longer than an hour, they're not going to come here to shop,” he said. “And until something is done about that, there won't be any retail downtown for a long time.”
Leo's Book Store opened in 1967 when Mr. Yourist's father, Leo, then out of work but with a background selling books and magazines, leased 650 square feet in the Nichols Building in the 300 block of North Superior Street.
The business grew and moved in 1973 to occupy more than 5,000 square feet across the street, adding wine to its inventory to serve corporate clientele downtown.
In 1999, the city wanted Leo's property to build a parking garage, and Leo's moved again — back across the street — to its current location.
The elder Mr. Yourist, who still owns the business his son manages, was a colorful fixture in downtown Toledo for decades, selling books, magazines, and wine to businesses as well as to people off the street.
“It's a very sad time for us,” said Leo Yourist's wife and partner, Lilly. Her husband wasn't ready to talk, she said.
“I can't tell you how upset we all are. It's sad all the way around.”
Mrs. Yourist said her husband's “heart is broken. He was down there seven days a week, seven nights, every holiday, he was open. I never saw him. He was always at the store.
“It's heart-wrenching to give it up, because it's a beautiful store.”
Attorney Gordon Hirsch's family ran another downtown bookstore, competing head-to-head with Leo's for 14 years for a share of the downtown periodicals business before the former Hirsch's Bookstore closed in 1981.
Mr. Hirsch said the problems that befell his family's business ultimately dragged down Leo's 28 years later.
“We were embattled by the chain stores in the malls, and then they got embattled by the big-box stores, and then the big-box stores got embattled by the Internet,” Mr. Hirsch said, remembering how his father would stay open until 10 p.m. each night to serve “the mobs of people on the sidewalk” outside their St. Clair Street store.
“It's sad about Leo's,” he said.
With the help of some large educational customers through a subsidiary, Academi-Text, a business that sells medical, scientific, computer, and business books and software, and seminar materials to institutional customers, annual revenues at Leo's at one time topped $1.5 million.
But no more.
Mr. Yourist said revenues from the magazines and newspapers he still sells are no longer enough to sustain the business.
He will continue to operate his textbook business, but not from a retail establishment, and not downtown.
“I grew up down here. I've met some phenomenal people down here and I treated them like family,” Mr. Yourist said. “It's truly the end of an era for me.”
Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6091.
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