Undauntedly Determined: The Vision of Unabridged Bookstore

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Photo: Jael Montellano

While Amazon looms as the nation’s largest bookseller, and the great indie bookshops of Chicago dwindle, Unabridged Bookstore celebrates thirty-five years in the Lakeview neighborhood as historic LGBT leader and community wunderkind. Read the rest of this entry »

Literati of the Moment: Sarah Hollenbeck and Lynn Mooney, New Owners of Women & Children First

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Photo: Joe Mazza/Brave Lux

Photo: Joe Mazza/Brave Lux

By Amy Danzer

Sarah Hollenbeck and Lynn Mooney hit the road running almost immediately after they stepped into the roles of co-owners of Women & Children First. Since they signed the papers in August of 2014, they have remodeled the Chicago institution (just enough), stocked the shelves with stellar books, and stacked the calendar with countless literary events. There’s no question these two—with their combined experience and brimming passion for literature—will further the legacy of W&CF in promising ways that will please and inspire readers, authors and the literary community of Chicago, if not at large.

What’s the elevator speech of how you two came to know each other and co-own Women & Children First?
Almost immediately after Sarah was hired at Women & Children First, the co-founders Ann Christophersen and Linda Bubon announced their plans to retire and sell the store. As the months passed and the prospective buyers began inquiring, there was a general uneasiness among staff about what would happen to the store and to our jobs. All of us wanted to make sure that the new owners not only knew books, but were committed to the feminist mission of the store. Sarah, who had worked in bookstores part-time most of her adult life and loved it, approached Lynn, the store’s manager, and together they pooled their resources and applied to own the store. Read the rest of this entry »

News: Independent Bookstore Hosts First Annual Festival for YA Books

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Design: Rebecca McKnight

This coming Saturday, The Book Cellar will host the first annual Chicago Young Adult Book Fest. The fest will take place at Sulzer Regional Library, 4455 North Lincoln, beginning at 10am and concluding at 7pm. Read the rest of this entry »

Survivors Celebrate: Linda Bubon talks Chicago Independent Bookstore Day

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By Brendan Buck bookstoreday

Linda Bubon is co-owner of Women and Children First, one of Chicago’s foremost independent bookstores, and as Linda describes it, “one of the ten remaining feminist bookstores in North America.” Though its primary mission is promoting women writers, they also feature Chicago writers of any gender identification, as well as male writers whose work is as “important to our understanding of the world as feminists.” Women and Children First hosts many events, including those for children, such as a Where’s Waldo Treasure Hunt this July, but we called her to chat about an event the store is organizing on July 12—Chicago’s first Independent Bookstore Day, in conjunction with Open Books, Sandmeyer’s Bookstore and six other Chicago independents. Read the rest of this entry »

Slow Books: Nina Barrett Revives Indie Bookselling in Evanston

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By Naomi Huffman

Nina Barrett and her husband, Jeff

Nina Barrett and her husband, Jeff Garrett

Nina Barrett has always followed her passions. After earning an English degree from Yale, she worked as an editorial assistant at St. Martin’s Press. She was then offered a leading position at the Literary Guild that required she read five to seven books a week, typically whatever was hitting the best-seller lists. After years spent studying nineteenth-century literature at Yale, the job experience provided Barrett with what she describes as an  “incredible grounding” in popular American literature.

Barrett came to Chicago in 1985 to attend the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She spent a year pursuing a culinary degree, a change of course that she’d intended to cap with opening a restaurant. Instead, she began working as a food reporter for WBEZ.  “The pull of words in me is strong,” Barrett says.

There’s possibly nothing that could prove this more than Barrett’s newest endeavor: Bookends & Beginnings, the independent bookstore she plans to open in Evanston in June, in the space formerly occupied by Bookman’s Alley. Barrett and I spoke recently about her plans for the store and the so-called independent book renaissance she finds so vital to our culture. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “The Last Days of California” by Mary Miller

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RECOMMENDED lastdaysofcalifornia

There are plenty of apocalyptic young-adult fiction books these days, but Mary Miller’s debut novel, “The Last Days of California,” has a fresh approach to an end-of-days story. Jess and her family are driving from Alabama to California for what her father believes is Armageddon. Based on the prediction of a prophet from their unspecified church, Jess’ father envisions a scenario of bodies floating up into heaven, as in the “Left Behind” series of books. Fifteen-year-old Jess wavers in her belief as they travel across the country, not quite sure if she’s about to experience the rapture, or even whether she believes in God or the teachings of her church at all.

Sitting next to Jess in the backseat is her sister, Elise, newly pregnant. Although only a few years older than Jess, the world-weary Elise is cynical beyond her years and firm in the belief that the end is nowhere in sight. Her only fragility is her inability to acknowledge her pregnancy, aside from telling her sister and then seemingly forgetting about the topic entirely. Miller’s pacing of the novel is really important, considering what is practically the closed set of the family car and a few motel rooms. While she’s unfolding Jess’ relationship with her family and her evolving ideas about religion, she’s rather brilliantly tied the awakening of a young girl to a ticking clock in the background. Read the rest of this entry »

Shelf Life: O’Gara & Wilson Moves to Smaller Town, Bigger Promise

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After more than fifty years of selling books in Hyde Park, Chicago’s oldest used bookstore, O’Gara and Wilson Ltd., will soon move to Chesterton, Indiana, located an hour east of the city. Current owner Doug Wilson, who began working for Joseph O’Gara as an apprentice in 1972, believes the move will keep the struggling store alive. Last year, Wilson was forced to use his personal savings to help float the store due to competition with e-books and online markets, but he believes the localized economic boom within the small town of Chesterton is promising.

Almost forty years ago, Wilson began his career scouting books for O’Gara. At least 2,000 used books lined the shelves in the Salvation Army, and amidst the sea of worthless book club novels and discarded Reader’s Digests, Wilson rediscovered books worthy of a second look. This process of scouting led Wilson to O’Gara’s bookstore in the early seventies. He began selling used books to O’Gara, once receiving $40 for finding a book written by the man who killed Billy the Kid. He bought that book on a whim for 50 cents. Soon, O’Gara saw Wilson had a gift for finding books, and offered him an apprenticeship. Read the rest of this entry »

Moving With Memories: Hyde Park’s Seminary Co-Op Bookstore Gets a Documentary Exhibition

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Photo: Jasmine Kwong

The Seminary Co-Operative Bookstore, a cornerstone in Hyde Park for more than fifty years, has been busy settling into their new location at 5751 South Woodlawn. And while they’ve moved only a few blocks away, it begins a new era in the store’s history. The bookstore, which operates as a member-owned cooperative, designed the new location with its community in mind. The floor-to-ceiling windows offer an abundance of natural light, a contrast to the former location’s basement browsing area. “The new space has worked out incredibly well,” says the Co-Op’s general manager Jack Cella. “Every day people come in and comment on how much they like it, even those who were prepared to dislike it because they have such fond memories of the old location.”

The Co-Op’s history became the focus of University of Chicago alumni Jasmine Kwong and Megan E. Doherty when their alma mater bought the building where the bookstore had long leased space. The two formed the Seminary Co-Op Documentary Project aimed at covering the bookstore’s rich history. “We discovered that we wanted to document the Co-Op, appreciated that we had complementary approaches, and decided to join forces,” says Kwong. They began to collect documents, interviews and photographs from members and patrons. Read the rest of this entry »

Magazine Junkies: Print Thrives at City Newsstand

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Photo: Heath Sharp

By Nolan Feeney

Mike Oelrich is strolling through the aisles of City Newsstand, cleaning up the racks and putting stray magazines back in their places when something catches his eye.

“Oh, look at that!” he says, reaching into the shelves to run his fingers over five thick holographic “The Hobbit”-themed issues of Empire, a monthly British film magazine that City Newsstand imports. “This is what we need more of.”

Between the faded brick walls of City Newsstand, four aisles of shelves carry more than 5,000 magazine titles. “Newsstand” is really a misnomer—at 2,000 square feet, City Newsstand is a bona fide magazine store. Dozens of food and cooking magazines are in one corner, business and fitness magazines are in another, and subculture titles for tattoo artists and pot smokers are in the middle. There are magazines about scrapbooks, and there are magazines about motorcycles, both for home mechanics and for fans of the scantily clad women sitting atop them. There are political journals in multiple languages, British celebrity tabloids, and GQs from every corner of the world. There are magazines for Civil War-history nerds and for beauty-pageant veterans. There is a $179.95 fashion magazine, Gap Collections, and there is Horse Illustrated.

Read the rest of this entry »

Support Group: A New Home for Independent Bookstores Springs to Life in Logan Square

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by John Wawrzaszek

The landscape for bookstores over the past few years has seen a drastic shift away from business-focused large-scale retail. Since the closing of the Borders books chain and the commoditization of online books from vendors like Amazon, the independent bookstore has been elevated to a level of predominance in the local market, giving customers a much needed outlet for physical sales, and the chance to hold a book and flip through its pages before buying. Independent music stores lived through a similar experience when chains like Virgin and Tower Records closed. These changes might have something to do with the fact that in less than two years’ time, three new booksellers have opened in a less than two-mile stretch along Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square. The two Blue line stops and the 56 Milwaukee bus make this a prime location for their literary expansion.

The sense of community in Logan Square is strong: from the successful farmer’s market, to the efforts of Logan Square Preservation, which manages the Comfort Station community space. For Teresa Kirschbraun, owner of City Lit Books, which opened in August, her choice to set up shop in Logan Square was in line with a “buy local” mentality. “I have lived in Logan Square for twenty-five years,” says Kirschbraun. “When I made the decision to pursue opening a bookstore, I wanted it to be in my community.” A similar idea was established two years previously when Marc Ruvolo opened Bucket O’Blood Books and Records. Ruvolo has been a resident of the area off-and-on for the past eighteen years. “Everyone around here is super nice and supportive. It’s a great area,” he says. “I love books and all I’ve done is try to sell good, quality books for cheap while fostering some sort of community feeling.” Both banked on support from the neighborhood they knew well as their ventures entered an era of operation out from under the shadow of chain stores. “Borders closing has actually been positive for us,” says Kirschbraun. “Their customers are still looking for a bookstore and many customers tell us they come here for that specific reason.” Read the rest of this entry »