Chicago's Independent Bookstores

Daniel Hautzinger
A bookstore. Photo: Adolfo Felix on Unsplash

The Great American Read returns to WTTW this fall. Explore the list, vote for your favorite book, and find more book-related features, quizzes, and interviews at wttw.com/read.

If you love books, you probably also love bookstores. Despite the rise of Amazon – including its foray into algorithm-driven brick-and-mortar stores – independent bookstores still remain an irreplaceable asset, with their staff recommendations, unusual selections, events, and sense of community. Luckily, Chicago has some wonderful examples, both old and new. Here are the stories of a few of them – find three more here, and even more here.

Women and Children First

Women and Children First bookstore in Chicago's Andersonville

In 1979, Linda Bubon and Ann Christophersen were graduate students in literature frustrated by the lack of availability of books by women, so they decided to open a bookstore. 39 years later, after two relocations and a shift in ownership to two of the store’s staffers, Women and Children First in Andersonville is still going strong as one of the largest feminist bookstores in the country. With a focus on books by and about women, a large children’s selection, and an impressive collection of LGBTQ books as well as weekly story time and a wide range of events featuring women authors, the bookstore continues to be an essential part of Chicago’s literary landscape and a beloved business in its community.


The Book Cellar

The Book Cellar in Chicago's Lincoln Square

The Book Cellar in Lincoln Square was a product of serendipity. Suzy Takacs, a nurse practitioner, wanted a change in her career and had decided to open a bookstore. Happily, the local alderman was hoping to recruit one for the neighborhood, and thus The Book Cellar was born, in June of 2004. And it’s not just a store; it also hosts author events, storytelling, book clubs, and comedy, and has a café that serves food, coffee, and wine. “I knew I wanted books and wine, because they’re two of my favorite things,” Takacs laughs. The Book Cellar is now an integral part of the community, where the staff knows many of their customers’ names. Couples have taken engagement photos there, a boy came when he was locked out of the house, and another child chose it as his refuge when he “ran away from home.” It’s even cozy enough that the novelist John Green wrote some of his early books there – watch him return to the store in this episode of WTTW's My Chicago:


RoscoeBooks

RoscoeBooks in Chicago

When Erika VanDam returned to her job in ad sales after going on maternity leave, she knew she needed to try something new. She and her family had just moved to Roscoe Village and loved both the community and its small business retail strip. But one thing was missing from the neighborhood: a bookstore. VanDam had majored in English and always been an avid reader, so she decided to try running a bookstore. “They’re the best kind of store,” she says. RoscoeBooks opened in November of 2014 – in some ways a good time, since the recession was over and big box bookstores weren’t much competition any more, even if Amazon was. The neighborhood champions local businesses, so RoscoeBooks has been supported all along, and tries to provide a space for the community to gather. While a general bookstore, it does carry a large amount of children’s books, as there are a lot of families in the neighborhood. And it has tried to be an ally to local schools, helping them bring in authors or providing them with books.

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