If you are a book lover, a true bibliophile, then Chicago is your kind of town. The city that has inspired so many authors—Saul Bellow, Ernest Hemingway, Nelson Algren, Shel Silverstein, and Carl Sandburg, to name a few—pays homage to the written word with scores of independent bookstores. These small shopes defy the age of the digital download and thrive on supportive neighborhood patrons. Author salons fueled by wine and cheese? Still happening. Children’s story hours? Absolutely. Local author nights? More than ever. These shops do things the old-fashioned way, with threadbare couches for impromptu novel skimming, handwritten staff recommendations, book signings, local author sections, and book clubs. Plus, they support local organizations, and the community loves them for it. From 57th Street Books in Hyde Park to the Book Stall in Winnetka, indie bookstores are still the cultural cornerstone of the Windy City. Here are a few favorites.
Tucked under the EL tracks on a street populated by fellow indie shops, this bookstore and adjoining café is a beacon to the Lincoln Square community. The ambiance is perfection with window nooks for reading, flowing wine (they support small-scale producers), and the heady scent of musty books, coffee, and gooey chocolate chip cookies.
We could describe Open Books as a used bookshop, but it’s so much more than that. This nonprofit uses proceeds from donated books and its retail store to fund litearcy programs for kids throughout Chicago. Volunteers run the joint, and it’s stocked with tomes for everyone from toddlers to travel junkies.
57 Street Bookstore
Ducking into this expansive basement shop feels like discovering a secret chamber of the Hogwarts vaeiety. Five rooms—complete with cozy reading nooks—offer a cross section of general interest material and a standout kids’ section. Both new releases and classics are curated by employees and accompanied by sweet handwritten “staff recommendation” notes.
Women and Children First
As the name implies, this Andersonville storefront caters to women. In fact, it is one of the largest feminist bookstores in the country, stocking material on everything from pregnancy and childbirth to lesbian fiction. Committed to “amplifying the voice of feminists,” the shop’s calendar features kids’ programming, book signings, and community events.
The Book Stall
When Suzanne Collins blew into town to promote Mockingjay, she headed north of the city to famed indie book shop, The Book Stall. Ditto for Caroline Kennedy, Martha Stewart, J.K. Rowling, and President Jimmy Carter. Each time, the room was packed. Even in this digital age, nothing excites lit lovers like a killer community bookstore.