(Plain Press, November 2021) Michael O’Brien, a librarian turned bookseller, came to the Near West Side as part of the Catholic activist movement to the neighborhood in the early 1970s and joined the Thomas Merton Community living in their house on W. 38th and Clinton.
O’Brien was the proprietor of the Six Steps Down Bookstore on Franklin Boulevard, the Bookstore on W. 25th and later Scriptoria Books on W. 14th in the basement of Zion Church.
O’Brien was active in community organizations and served a stint as president of Near West Neighbors in Action during the 1980s. He also mounted a campaign for the Ward 14 seat in Cleveland City Council.
Many current and former Near West Side residents have fond memories of the Bookstore on W. 25th where O’Brien could be found amongst the books on shelves or stacked on the floor, or sitting behind the counter with his signature long hair and beard.
The Bookstore on W. 25th was a special place for people of all persuasions to meet. Community organizers and activists came to hang out and discuss strategy or post fliers for various causes.
During the 1980s and early 1990s the Plain Press was housed in the back of the Bookstore on W. 25th. O’Brien offered the space to the Plain Press in exchange for a monthly ad for the bookstore. O’Brien helped to keep the memory of the Plain Press alive during its brief hiatus at the end of the 1970s until its revival late in 1980.
O’Brien saved the Plain Press archives in the bookstore and talked to those who would listen about the importance of reviving the newspaper. Community members Lisa Oppenheim and Rosyln Block combined their efforts to write a grant to the Gund Foundation to restart the Plain Press in October 1980.
The Reverend Scott Rosenstein in a eulogy of Michael O’Brien told of his experience with Michael O’Brien and his wife Debbie Webb as volunteers at Zion Church. Rosenstein remembers Michael for his quiet words of wisdom while participating in the church’s book club. He said O’Brien volunteered at the Zion Hot Meal and O’Brien, a former Catholic seminarian was a regular Gospel reader at Zion Church.
Many community members came to share their memories of Michael O’Brien at a potluck hosted in his memory by his wife Debbie Webb at St. Paul’s Church at W. 45th and Franklin on Sunday October 3rd.