Saturday, November 21, 2009

Vanished Bookstores

In 1995 & 1996, over 150 independent bookstores went out of business nationwide. I've seen plenty of Chicago bookstores disappear in the 18 years that I've lived here. Here is a list of eight, with a brief description for each:

Kroch's and Brentano's
Once located at: 29 S. Wabash & elsewhere
Years in business: 88 (1907-1995)

It was originally a German language bookstore founded in 1907 by Adolph Kroch. In 1933, after Kroch acquired its main competition, Brentano's, Kroch's and Brentano's became the largest bookstore in Chicago and the largest privately owned bookstore chain in the United States.

It was "a pioneer in book display concepts and store design," was thought to have carried the finest selection of art books in the city and "its sales clerks were legendarily knowledgeable."
The bookstore also was known for tracking down obscure or out of print editions for customers from around the world and its book-signings by major authors.

It dominated book sales in Chicago until it was devastated by the onslaught of discount chains, and was the city's oldest independent bookstore when it filed for bankruptcy in 1995.

Scenes Coffee House & Dramatists Bookstore
Once located at: 3168 N. Clark St.
Closed: in the 90's

This was a favorite hang-out of mine the first year that I lived in Chicago in 1991-92. It was a really lovely coffeehouse with huge windows and wood bookcases.

Act I Bookstore
Once located at: 2632 N. Lincoln
Closed: in the last 10 years

This was an excellent bookstore to find any play or theater-related book that you could possibly desire. Theater newspapers, magazines, tapes, etc. It was very much a theater person's bookstore. Probably the only reason I even knew about it was because in the mid-90's my sweetheart at the time was an actress and she used to make regular trips there to pick up scripts and such.

Aspidistra Bookstore
Once located at: 2630 N. Clark
Closed: in the 90's

This was the best used bookstore in Chicago. I spent a lot of time there in my late teens. I think that a sushi restaurant took its place. Probably in the last 10-15 years, the number of sushi restaurants in the city has increased by 100,000%, while the number of independent bookstores has decreased as much.

People Like Us
One located at: 3321 N. Clark St/1115 W. Belmont
Closed: in the 90's

This was the only exclusively gay and lesbian bookstore in Chicago. I remember going there for the first time when I was 18 or 19 years old and feeling really in awe of this place. It was supportive of local writers and the number one place to stop on book-tour in Chicago if you were a gay or lesbian writer.

The Children's Bookstore
Once located on: Lincoln Ave.
Closed: 1996
Years in business: 11

Considered a valuable community resource, The Children's Bookstore had over 25,000 children's titles in stock, offered free story hours, author readings and art workshops, and at its peak hosted 250 events in a single year. Five superstores opened within a one-mile radius of it within the year before it was forced to close.

In the small factory town where I lived as a child, the only bookstore was Little Professor Books. It was not, as the name may seem to indicate, a children's bookstore. It was an all-ages bookstore with a section for children. I remember that I used to get stomachaches from the excitement whenever my mom would take me there to pick out a new book. And that was in response to one aisle of children's books. So, I imagine The Children's Bookstore was a kind of overwhelming paradise for a lot of Chicago children from the mid-80's to the mid-90's.

Savvy Traveller
Once located at: 310 S. Michigan Ave.
Closed: 2007
Years in business: 22

This bookstore was amazing, and I was crushed when I heard that it closed. It was the coolest travel store around. You could buy everything there that you can possibly think of related to travel except your plane or train ticket. They had awesome globes, maps, hundreds of travel guides, and all kinds of sweet travel gear and gadgets.

They now operate an on-line store, but it was the atmosphere of the old, flesh and blood store which made it so unique and wonderful. It used to make me come alive even if I was just walking by it on my way somewhere else and didn't have time to stop. This one was definitely a great loss for the city.

Transitions Bookstore
Once located at: 1000 W. North Ave.
Closed: August 15, 2008
Years in business: 19

This was a self-help/New Age bookstore and cafe that was located right next to the old Whole Foods on North Ave. It was also a shop where one could buy incense, meditation cushions, statues of Buddha, relaxation cds -- all sorts of material goods to accompany you on the path. They had a regular reading series and often brought in well-known health and spirituality writers like Deepak Chopra and Andrew Weil.

Prairie Avenue Bookshop
Once located at: 418 S. Wabash Ave.
Closed: September 1, 2009
Years in business: 48

The most recent, and perhaps the most devastating loss, in my opinion, other than maybe Kroch's & Brentano's, is the Prairie Avenue architecture bookstore. It was referred to by architects as a national resource. This place was like an architecture museum/library/sanctuary. I can't think of another bookstore with as much class or style. It was totally gorgeous and had some of the most beautiful books on its tables and shelves. The bookstore originally was begun in Wilbert and Marilyn Hasbrouck's home. Then they opened it in 1974 on Prairie Avenue and then moved to the Wabash location in 1995.

It is sobering to think of the so many independent bookstores -- these that I've listed, and others -- that Chicago has lost in the past 15 years, but this one makes my heart ache.

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