Chicago has been frequently touted as a writer’s town; a place where writers can work on their craft and thrive. Of course writers are nothing without an audience to read them, and the bevy of bookstores in Chicagoland is one indication that we’re also a reader’s town—not just a place where people make books, but a place where people embrace books. Our stories as Chicagoans are as varied and complicated as they should be in a city our size, and the independent booksellers that make up our literary retail landscape follow suit. While the death of some of the larger book chains over the last 20 years might have made it feel like bookstores were fading out, independent bookstores have continued to thrive in the last few years (the American Booksellers Association points to a long list of news articles about this phenomenon on their website).
While many of the bookstores I checked in with have recently reopened their doors in a responsibly socially distanced manner, I’m sure some of you have been ordering books online as a default, even before we knew about COVID-19. And ahem, some of you might have, perhaps sheepishly, found yourselves buying books from a global corporation that got sued in the 90s for using the name of a feminist bookstore in Minnesota. I’m happy to report that nearly every bookstore on this list has delivery services and online ordering available, and many will arrange for curbside pickup for you. Hours at all of the stores are subject to change, especially given how current health guidelines may or may not shift over the next few months for retail establishments, so it’s best to call ahead.
Every one of the booksellers that I talked to while gathering this map information was happy to be open and catering to their patrons, but two stores in particular have also seen some extra support come their way. D&Z House of Books, a bookseller, publisher, and distributor in Belmont Cragin that concentrates on books written in the Polish language, has been asking their customers to help them pay it forward by fundraising for Capsula Especial, an independent cultural center in Mexico. And Ras Sekou Tafari, the co-owner of Frontline Books in Hyde Park, told me that a longtime customer of the store and publishing imprint took it upon themselves to start a fundraising campaign to help Frontline recoup losses after their new Woodlawn location was vandalized in June. v