Novelist James Michener, inscribing one of his novels,
“Book General, keep the armies moving,” recognized
Richard’s innate ability to lead legions of readers to
books. He is a man of incredible character with a passion
for life, and he has loosed this energy onto the region
for one abiding reason to – to promote books and reading.
Richard's personal library of books
includes more than six thousand signed editions, and the
messages that those authors have penned to Richard in the
first pages of their books reflect the zeal with which he
has promoted their works. Twice the Cleveland Public
Library has exhibited famous and noteworthy books from
Richard’s library, as well as many of the personal letters
he has received from readers, luminaries, politicians and
novelists. As a whole they praise Richard’s hospitality
and mirth, and one can tell from reading them that their
impressions of Cleveland were lifted up by Richard’s
Richard’s dedication to book promotion in Cleveland
started in 1955 at Higbee’s downtown Cleveland department
store, where he worked side-by-side with Anne Udin and
learned the business of books from her for 18 years. He
often refers to this time as the “longest apprenticeship
Cleveland Press Editor Louis B. Seltzer wanted to start a
book and author luncheon, he turned to Dr. Fern Long,
deputy director of the Cleveland Public Library. Long
called upon Udin and Richard, who was then the associate
book buyer and director of author promotions for Higbee
Company. They recruited the sponsorship of Anne Levine of
Publix Book Mart, and then went off to New York to line up
the authors who inaugurated the Press Book and Author
Luncheon. That luncheon eventually became the Cleveland
Plain Dealer Book and Author Luncheon. Similarly, Richard
helped create the "Meet the Author" Luncheon series at
Higbee’s that raised money for the Women’s City Club.
Higbee’s, Richard moved to Burrows Books and Stationery.
He became the manager of the Shaker Square store, and was
chief book buyer for all 26 Burrows stores. Then, at a
time when Shaker
Square was struggling to attract shoppers and merchants,
Richard opened his own Richard Gildenmeister Bookshop on
the Square in 1976. His store was an immediate hit, with
Mayor Ralph Perk proclaiming it a savior for the Square.
beloved Shaker Square, Richard was one of the early
founding members of the Friends of Shaker Square. He
served two terms on the Board of Trustees of that
Richard’s store on the Square eventually closed, and he
went to work for Booksellers in Beachwood’s Pavilion Mall.
Later, he worked for Appletree Books in Cleveland Heights.
He returned to Shaker Square to join Joseph-Beth
Booksellers as the distinguished Master Bookseller, and
moved to Joseph-Beth’s Legacy Village location when the
Shaker Square store closed.
books are sold not only in bookstores. Richard discovered
over the years that one good way to reach readers is to
take the books to them. He attends numerous "outside"
events, where authors speak and Richard sells their books.
These events occur at schools, libraries, churches,
synagogues and community centers, and have included The
Intown Club of Cleveland, The City Club of Cleveland, the
Council on World Affairs, Judson Wade Manor, Fairmount
Temple, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, John Carroll
University, 21st Century Club, and numerous libraries
has served on the board of trustees for the Friends of the
Cleveland Public Library. He also served as a
trustee of Fairview-based Youth Challenge, which
provides recreation activities and sports for physically
disabled children; he was instrumental in bringing major
funding to that organization. Richard also is active at
St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights, where he
is a lector and usher, a member of the Men's Council and
the Inter-Faith Hospitality Committee, and is a Stephen
views bookselling as an extension of his personality and
his personal life. He is flamboyant and friendly,
clamorous and caring, helpful and hilarious. After 50
years and having sold hundreds of thousands of books to
hundreds of thousands of people, he finds that the “big
rush” for him is still when he can bring the book and
those readers greet Richard when they see him. They thank
him for a book recommendation, or for making a special
effort to drop off a package of books to a sick family
member. They ask about the health of the book business,
and offer encouragement for his employers. They kid him
and laugh with him. Richard talks to anyone and everyone.
Gildenmeister is one of Cleveland’s unique individuals. He
has made a dramatic, though quiet, impact upon the region.
The books in untold thousands of personal libraries are
testament to that. ●