Stores With Stories: Dog Ears Bookstore & Cafe

By Nancy J. Parisi

Published on | Last Updated

Nestled along a busy and mixed-use residential/commercial block of Abbott Road in South Buffalo, Dog Ears Bookstore & Café is a true community gem. Yes, this is a fabulous bookstore selling titles in every genre, but its café chops are just as solid with delicious breakfast and lunch items on their menu that may be enjoyed in any of three cozy seating areas.

And just as their book-loving and using name denotes (dog-eared pages being the bent over pages of a book-reading in progress), they are all about the joys of reading. “Children’s books, and local authors are our biggest sellers,” says business founder and executive director of the in-house non-profit, Thomas McDonnell. 

Dog Ears founder, Thomas McDonnell

“I got out of Canisius with a teaching degree and I really didn’t want to be a teacher so I came up with a way to use my love of books. I wanted to run a bookstore but knew that I couldn’t compete with the chain bookstores so I took my teaching degree and, with the help of some amazing friends, came up with the concept of a literary arts center upstairs for reading and writing programs that I designed for all ages. And downstairs we encompass the reading and writing process by selling books. We inherited the coffee house from the previous business, Caz Coffee. They left in 2012 and then we took over the café.”

Dog Ears, opened in 2008, serves McCullagh Coffee and an array of teas, as well as creatively-named sandwiches and wraps, like the DIY sandwich named “Writer’s Block.” Celebrating the neighborhood’s proud Celtic heritage, “The Dubliner,” featuring the Irish cheese of the same name, can be found under their panini options.

They’re open seven days a week, open from 7:30am-6pm on Monday-Friday and from 9am-3pm on Saturday and Sunday. The bookstore portion of the business is run completely by volunteers.

In addition to comfortable bookstore-café trappings, like mismatched old tables and chairs, seasonally-appropriate holiday decorations, and a welcoming and casual vibe, Dog Ears is home base for a local non-profit supporting literacy and writing skills for kids. The Enlightenment Literary Arts Center meets on the second floor of the bookstore, up a winding staircase decorated with memorable literary quotes.

The upstairs is a comfortable space decorated with artwork by many program participants, sofas for plunking down to read, and banks of computers. It’s not uncommon to hear kids tromping up and down the staircase during business hours, and to hear their enthusiastic voices upstairs. The Enlightenment Literary Arts Center is funded by individual and corporate sponsors, as well as the County of Erie.

McDonnell, who clearly loves what he does, says he works a few days a week to stay in touch with customers, and spends most of his time writing grants and “keeping up with the times to make sure we know what the community needs.”

He says his favorite things to read are “Children’s books, and classic lit.” He has written a book, an illustrated book for kids entitled “Monster in the Morning,” published in 2018 and about “A mother who hasn’t had her coffee yet. We sell it.” Indeed, they do, both items.

Dog Ears Bookstore & Cafe, 688 Abbott Rd. / (716)823-2665 / / Facebook / Instagram

Nancy J. Parisi headshot

Nancy J. Parisi

Nancy is a social documentation photographer based in Buffalo, NY.