On the heels of news that Amazon will be opening a brick-and-mortar bookstore in the Lakeview neighborhood came the responsive outcries from some of Chicago’s remaining beloved independent bookstores. In an already largely monopolized market, it really does seem as if Amazon is out to twist the proverbial knife they’ve long plunged into traditional bookselling.
It is therefore a compelling and meaningful gesture that Hyde Park’s Seminary Co-Op Bookstore is releasing a photographic catalog of their 2012 documentary project, “If You Weren’t Looking for It: The Seminary Co-Op Bookstore.” The catalog is a nostalgic ode to the Seminary Co-Op prior to their move, when the bookstore was located in the basement of the Chicago Theological Seminary. Of course, though their relocation is not exclusively a direct effect of the growth of online retailers, and the bookstore has continued its life at the Woodlawn location, the Seminary Co-Op catalog reminds us what online retailers and their successive algorithm-scaled stores cannot do: be mazes, be an education and be a community. Granted, the latter is likely the reason Amazon plans to open the Lakeview store, among others.
But look through the images of the Seminary Co-Op. See its diverse patrons, from local families to international scholars. See its former phantasmagoric location amidst the pipes and narrow basement windows, and read the book’s essays, mementos of memory and place, by some of the Co-Op’s illustrious clientele, from writer Aleksandar Hemon, to Adrienne Mong, John Kessler, Rick Kogan and more. You’ll be reminded of those places one can only find when lost—those places that, like a community vegetable patch, are born from their environment with careful cultivation and are as elemental as air. Those places are the soil on which to build.
“If You Weren’t Looking for It: The Seminary Co-Op Bookstore” is a title to add to your Chicago history bookshelf for posterity, either to commemorate the unique world-class bookselling nook that it was, to celebrate its survival as an independent bookseller, or to simply ruminate on the nature of the hidden-gem bookstore. (Jael Montellano)
“If You Weren’t Looking for It: The Seminary Co-Op Bookstore”
Megan E. Doherty & Jasmine Kwong, 148 pages, $35
Book release party on Saturday, October 15, 4:30-6pm, 5751 South Woodlawn, (773)752-4381