S.C. Saad, 40; owned children's bookstore

Posted: August 03, 2004

Dr. Shahnaz Christine "Chris" Saad, 40, owner of the warm, cozy store near Rittenhouse Square full of magic and books that children love - Chris' Corner: Books for Kids & Teens - died Saturday of scleroderma at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. She lived around the corner from the shop, a stone's throw from a behemoth bookstore on Walnut Street.

After graduating with a bachelor's degree in education from Smith College in 1985, Dr. Saad packed all her worldly goods, mostly books, into her old car and left her native Long Island in search of the rest of her life.

Headed south, she stopped in Philadelphia. There she fell in love with Center City, the place where many of the streets were named after trees, so she decided to stay.

Dr. Saad worked for a while with mentally disabled children in several schools in Philadelphia while earning a doctorate in education in 1996 from the University of Pennsylvania.

With money she saved and a little borrowed from her family, Dr. Saad, who had a lifelong penchant for children's literature, set up a tiny shop at 1940 Pine St. in 1998. She hung a big, purple sign outside that said "Chris' Corner: Books for Kids & Teens."

Undaunted by the long shadow that nearby giants Barnes & Noble and Borders, which has since moved, cast on her little shop, Dr. Saad fulfilled her dream of owning a bookstore for children.

In a space about the size of a living room, furnished with miniature chairs, knee-high tables, comfy rugs and bookshelves with short steps so little hands could reach the books they wanted, she created a welcoming, comfortable place that kids never wanted to leave.

She also hired teens to dress up like characters such as Clifford the Big Red Dog, held contests, and invited famous authors to speak.

Dr. Saad developed friendships with her little clients and maintained their wish lists of books that came in handy for parents and grandparents.

Many people who came to her store told her, "This is just like that movie, the one with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. What's it called? You've Got Mail."

"Yes, it's just like that," Dr. Saad politely said during a 2004 Inquirer interview, as if she hadn't heard that one a thousand times. "Except we're not going to go out of business."

And she didn't. Dr. Saad was diagnosed with scleroderma - a noncontagious, autoimmune disease that leads to thickening and hardening of the skin - while in college, but she did not let that stop her. She worked in the store until shortly before her death and lived a life of integrity and generosity.

Each Christmas, Dr. Saad "adopted" children from the Dear Santa program at the U.S. Postal Service. She read their letters and anonymously sent gifts they requested. She fulfilled the dream of one child who asked that Santa pay the rent so the family would not lose its home.

With her friend Kim Robinson, a children's-book librarian at the Paschalville Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, Dr. Saad made sure 170 needy children at Christmas got new books.

"Last year, when I was battling cancer," Robinson said, "Chris taught me the meaning of friendship. She was always there for me and made sure I had Harry Potter hats when I lost my hair."

Dr. Saad is survived by her parents, Mayer and Samira Saad; a brother, Andre; and a niece, Layla.

Friends may visit at 9 a.m. today at William H. Logan Funeral Home, 2410 Lombard St. A Funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Thursday at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Brookville, N.Y. Burial will be in Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury, N.Y.

Memorial donations may be sent to Firstbook.org, 1319 Frank St. N.W., Suite 1000, Washington, D.C. 20004

Contact staff writer Gayle Ronan Sims at 215-854-4185 or gsims@phillynews.com.

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