Sunday, August 30, 2009

Please support your local independent bookstores!

Yesterday, I had what I would ordinarily call an excellent book buying day. I bought a dozen books, at two different bookstores, at 50% and 70% off the normal prices. But it wasn't a good day, because the reason for the tremendous discounts is that, as of tomorrow, two wonderful bookstores in downtown Chicago will be no more.

(Photo by MICAH MAIDENBERG/Staff, Chicago Journal)

Powell's Books, on S. Wabash, couldn't withstand the rising rents in that gentrifying neighborhood. The stock will go to their wholesale warehouse. Athough they have two other stores, the building that houses the Lincoln Park branch is up for sale. The store will continue to operate until the building is sold (which, in this market, may be a while). At least, we have the small comfort that the 57th Street Store (my usual haunt, as it's a few blocks from my home) will remain open.

Much sadder, therefore, is the loss of Prairie Avenue Bookshop, which has been called the finest architecture bookstore in the world.

(Copyright 2009, Prairie Avenue Bookshop)

Part of the reason for the closure is that the owners are getting on in years (they've been running the place since it originally opened in the Prairie Avenue historic district in the mid-'70s - read its history here) and have been unable to find a buyer. But they were also contending with competition from the big box stores' ability to discount, and Chicago's increased sales tax and the resulting flow of buyers away from retail stores and to the internet. Unfortunately, those places may have the latest books, but they don't have backlists, they don't have old copies of journals, they don't have used books. And they don't have the sheer beauty and ambience of Prairie Avenue Bookshop. You went in and browsed bookcases with leaded glass, sat at a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed table, in a Charles Rennie Mackintosh- or Josef Hoffmann-designed chair, near a Louis Sullivan frieze. You can't do that on Amazon, and, now, you can't do it in Chicago, either.

So, please, if you care about stores like these, shop at them!


  1. Good point. We all love these types of bookstores that have there own atmosphere and personality. So we need to spend our money there instead of ordering off Amazon or going to the chain superstores all the time.