What is it like running an independent bookstore in an (affluent) neighborhood that formerly supported multiple chain and independent bookstores? Ms. Fastwolf will refer customers to Women & Children First, The Book Cellar in Lincoln Square and, of course, the M.C.A. Chicago Store. “When people come in from out of town, and ask what to see, I love recommending Quimby’s, they sell books, zines, and comic books.”
Ms. Fastwolf pointed out Laurie’s Planet of Sound, a record store in Lincoln Square, also sells books on music. “The only bookstore close to me is Frenchy’s and that’s triple x. I doen’t judge, but I’m not referring people over there, and you can quote me on that.”
This led to a discussion of how, in the early 1990s, downtown Chicago had a rich variety of bookstores. We spoke about the closure of the flagship Kroch’s and Brentano’s on Wabash Avenue; Waterstone’s Books on the Magnificent Mile of Michigan Avenue; Rizzoli Bookstore Water Tower Place on the Mag Mile; the enormous Borders Books & Music on the Mag Mile; and the foreign language book and magazine store, Europa Books, on State Street in the cathedral district.
In the Loop, Prairie Avenue is gone, too. “I remember that one going down,” said Ms. Fastwolf. “That was just sad.”
I mentioned Stars Our Destination is gone, as well. Ms. Fastwolf replied, “Just yesterday, I sold one of their old bookmarks.”
There’s a Barnes & Noble left on State at Elm, Ms. Fastwolf mentioned. “Unabridged Books over on Broadway still does well,” she said. “Bless him.”
Speaking about people who go out of their way to shop at the Newberry Bookstore rather than purchasing something online, she said, “When they come in they really want that one-on-one experience. It’s charming and wonderful.”
Apropos of repeat customers, she said, “They buy the ten best cards and then one book. As a retailer, that’s gratifying.”
The Newberry Bookstore sells Newberry publications such as exhibit catalogs and The Encyclopedia of Chicago. It sells books on the subjects of American Studies, Medieval and Renaissance History, Literature, Native American Studies, Genealogy, Cartography, as well as books about Chicago history and the greater Midwest. In addition, the Newberry Bookstore sells general interest titles, including children’s books; book-related gifts; greeting cards; “notecards with a slightly surreal bent” as Ms. Fastwolf put it; postcards; wrapping paper; and toys fabricated by local artisans.
Ms. Fastwolf mentioned that about two weeks into running the place she introduced civil union notecards. She indicated that this seemed natural to her, having recently worked in San Francisco at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
The Newberry Bookstore carries notecards by local companies La Familia Green and a. favorite design. The owner of La Familia Green gives some of her profits to animal welfare causes.
A local woman up in Evanston also makes their book boxes sold in the Newberry Bookstore. She recycles old books from the Newberry Book Fair to make those boxes.
The Newberry Bookstore sells 3D postcards that Ms. Fastwolf first encountered in the 1980s. [She remembers buying them at Arcadia inside Carson’s. They sold toys, candy, etc.] “They’re actually selling really well, which is cracking me up.”
Joyfully, Ms. Fastwolf said, “We have books on sea monsters.” I asked if she saw the new stories about Google Maps Street View supposedly capturing a picture of the Lock Ness Monster. She had and loved the Loch Ness Monster Google Doodle.
“We had two book-signings that were crazy successful that sold out in one night.” One was the aforementioned sea monster book Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps by Chet Van Duzer and the other was Blood Runs Green by Gillian O’Brien, a fellow at The Newberry Library. [I wrote about Chet Van Duzer’s book-signing last month as an upcoming event in “2015 Newberry Library April Programs, Summer Seminars.”] Blood Runs Green is a true-life mystery book that is also about the Irish experience in Chicago.
The Newberry Bookstore also sells gifts produced by Britton Walters, the local artist known professionally as Mr. Walters, by the handle Nerfect, and brand name Nerfect Artistic Novelties. This includes his Diabolical Hot Dog™ pins and badges.
At Halloween, they sold out of his skull pillows. They also sold out of Edgar Allen Poe lunch boxes.
According to its Web page, “The Newberry Bookstore is also the only library gift shop to house a Button-O-Matic button dispenser, with buttons featuring images of notable Newberry collection items.” Busy Beaver Button Company, a local firm that, amongst other things, retrofits bubblegum machines into button vending machines, installed a button machine in the bookstore that has buttons with images from past Newberry exhibits.
They have Jane Austen press-on tattoos. Addressing the appeal of these quirky gifts, Ms. Fastwolf said, “Anyone who’s intelligent probably has a sense of humor. We’re a funny little place.”
Retro, reprint children’s books are selling quite well. Esther Avrill’s Jenny Linsky books from the 1940s are a favorite.
For the benefit of paper artists and the do-it-yourself set, they sell the complete series of Keith Smith’s bookbinder books. They also sell bookbinder supplies.
As mentioned above, they sell books on Native American studies and Native American literature. “We might be the only one doing that, too,” Ms. Fastwolf said.
One example is You Can’t Teach United States History without American Indians. Scott Manning Stevens, one of the authors, is the former Director of the D’Arcy McNickle Center. The book came out last month.
Ms. Fastwolf works closely with the director of the D’Arcy McNickle Center. The new director is Patricia Marroquin Norby, Ph.D.
The Newberry Bookstore sells a couple of titles that reflect recent discoveries in archives of pictures of American Indians by American Indians. They also sell two documentary photo books and display them side-by-side. These are Bike Riders and Uptown: Portrait of a Chicago Neighborhood in the Mid-1970s.
The Newberry Library is located at 60 West Walton Street. It occupies a solid block that is bounded by Walton Street to the south, Dearborn Street to the east, Oak Street to the north, and Clark Street to the west.
Washington Square Park (not to be confused with the much larger Washington Park on the South Side) is across the street on Walton. The Newberry Library is in the Near North Side Community Area (Community Area #8).
Closed Sundays and Mondays, the Newberry Bookstore is open from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Fridays, and from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Saturdays. The shop sometimes remains opens late to accommodate special events. The phone number there is (312) 255-3520 and the e-mail address is bookstore [at] newberry.org.
A year ago, Jade Cabagnot, a librarian with the Chicago Public Library who earned her M.S. degree in Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, wrote a review of the Newberry Bookstore for Google. “Best bookstore in town! This bookstore has lots of historical titles, quality selection with excellent review. Buy some Chicago or Newberry library souvenirs here. Friendly staff who can even order a book for you if you are willing to wait a coupla weeks.”
Notably, if one searches for “Newberry Library Bookstore” (at least with Google), one will find active links from both “A.C. McClurg Bookstore – Newberry Library” and “The Newberry Bookstore | Newberry – Newberry Library.” The former leads to what amounts to a homepage for the Newberry Bookstore, while the latter leads to an old Web page from November of 2013, written around the time that The Newberry Library resumed direct management of the shop. A reminder that The Newberry Library has a bookstore, it reads, in part, “With local, independent bookstores becoming difficult to find, The Newberry Bookstore fills an important community need and offers a cozy, quiet environment to leisurely browse mysteries, plays, poetry, and other literature; books on the history of Chicago, the country, and other parts of the world; and reference materials, such as unusual atlases.”
The Newberry Bookstore has its own Facebook account “Newberry Library Bookstore” (not to be confused with The Newberry Library Facebook account). It seems to be a handy way to stay current with events at the shop. The Tumblr “Bookstores of Chicago” has a nice tribute page to the McClurg Bookstore (that gives the wrong middle initial for General McClurg), “The Newberry Library (A.J. McClurg Bookstore).”
 General Alexander C. McClurg was a book and magazine publisher, wholesale distributor of books and stationary, and retailer. The retail operation was the oldest bookshop in the city, founded in 1844. He joined the firm in 1859, left to fight in the Civil War, and returned to become a partner with former employer S.C. Griggs. His business, A.C. McClurg & Company, burnt down in 1899, but he re-organized it, selling stock to employees, before he died in 1901. A.C. McClurg & Company published eleven Tarzan books, starting with Tarzan of the Apes in 1914. To focus on being a book wholesaler, A. C. McClurg sold its bookstore located at 218 South Wabash Street to Brentano’s. Finally, the company was liquidated in 1962. The Newberry Library owns the A.C. McClurg & Co. Records, 1873-1962.
 In 2011, the Seminary Co-operative Bookstore, Inc. celebrated the 50th anniversary of its incorporation. In October of 2012, its flagship store moved one block east to a larger, above-ground location at 5751 South Woodlawn Avenue on The University of Chicago campus. This is the Woodlawn Avenue Store. 57th Street Books, at 57th Street and Kimbark, celebrated the 30th anniversary of its opening on Tuesday, October 22, 2013.
 Ms. Cabagnot had previously worked at The Newberry Library’s McNickle Center (from November of 2011 to October of 2013).