The Eight Best Independent Bookstores in Chicago

Amazon Bookstore is coming. These local shops need your help.

March 20, 2017 9:00 am

Small neighborhood bookstores still exist for a reason.

Reasons like: Community. Enthusiastic recommendations. Simple and quiet browsing.

They are everything, in other words, that Amazon Bookstore is not.

The online retail giant has moved into Lakeview and will open its very own brick-and-mortar any day now, proffering a fluid, intelligent shopping experience led by behavior-analytic robots. But the “guesstometrics” interface strips away the local bookstore’s appeal: We go because we want to get lost, child-like, among the stacks. We go for author readings. For community events. For Instagrams of wire-haired shop dogs.

With that in mind, we present our guide to Chicago’s top neighborhood bookstores, as categorized by the type of tomes you’re looking for.

For novel suggestions over a glass of vino …
You can always count on the Book Cellar in Lincoln Square for a solid first-time author or Chicago scribe recommendation. The store hosts a Local Author Night every third Wednesday of the month, and its nuanced titles and book clubs for every niche speak to its community servitude. Bonus: they serve wine.

Photo: Michael Saechang/Flickr

For when browsing is half the fun (and the other half is out-of-print gems) …
Myopic Bookstore and its self-deprecating name is deceptively cavernous, with three floors and some 70,000 books stacked floor to ceiling with every genre you can imagine, including rare and out-of-print titles. There are secret reading nooks everywhere. Not to be missed: the Myopic Poetry Series organized by local bard Larry Sawyer.

For an iPad replacement that’ll work wonders on the kids …
Roscoe Books has devoted 30% of its inventory to children, adolescent and young-adult literature. The owner, Erika VanDam, became a mom in 2013 before opening the store a year later. It’s now a local staple. Shelves also house titles on parenting, biographies, memoirs and more.

For the gourmand who considers literature a vital food group …
One part bookstore, one part test kitchen, Read It and Eat in Lincoln Park is an epicurean’s sanctuary. Inventory includes cookbooks, chef memoirs, culinary history books and reference materials. The kitchen space hosts a creative calendar of events including author/chef signings, discussions, demonstrations, tastings and demos. A monthly book club devotes equal time to the text as to cooking techniques, all before sharing a meal with members.

Photo: Pierre Gratia

For a treatise on Machiavellian politics from decidedly genuine personnel …
You no longer need to bob pipes and dance around old faucets, but Seminary Co-op Bookstore still holds one of the largest collections of academic titles in the world at its above-ground location next door to the Frank Lloyd Wright Robie House. The cultivated space houses University of Chicago faculty publications and subjects spanning arts, humanities, science, math and religion — a veritable repository for the next Dark Ages. Miss the shadows? Their general interest sister store 57th Street Books is in a basement down the block.

For transgressive literature …
Quimby’s Bookstore, Wicker Park’s maverick bolthole, ennobles everything peculiar and disruptive in cult fiction, fanzines and graphic novels. An active roster of community events also enables modern day apostles.

Photo: Jordan Nelson

For supporting the big voices of small presses (and actual voices) …
Located inside Revival Food Hall, Curbside Books & Records is a little nook of a store that memorializes its city. Staff of the award-winning Curbside Splendor Publishing carefully finger a unique catalogue of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, and also host local musicians. Other independent publishers include NYRB, Coffee House Press and Dorothy.

Photo: Beth Priddy Shotwell

For the post-Women’s March read you’ve been craving …
Andersonville’s Women and Children First gets right to the point, stocking nearly 30,000 books by and about women. Owners also inaugurated Read Local, which advertises local authors, editors and publishers.

Main photo: Curbside Books & Records

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