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.
Wilson recalls shelving books in the back and overhearing an old friend of O’Gara’s ask about Wilson’s work as an apprentice. O’Gara explained that Wilson had what he called “a nose for books.” To O’Gara, having a good nose meant simply looking at a book and knowing, for some inexplicable reason, whether it was something worth having. Wilson recalls O’Gara saying, “you could look at a book and maybe it’s in a language you don’t even know and you’ve never seen it before, but something tells you this is a good book and you should buy it.”
For Wilson, finding a rare book is a feeling he can’t quite describe: “It’s an intangible factor, it’s intuitive, it’s so complex it’s almost a spiritual thing,” Wilson says. (Kathleen Caplis)
O’Gara & Wilson will move in August to 223 Broadway, Chesterton, Indiana