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April 7, 2021

I often have book thoughts or experiences that I want to share, though I do not necessarily believe any thing I think or say is really worthy of being shared.  I decided to create a page that I can throw stuff on that I might share with a book best friend.   Here goes nothing:

I was recently interviewed for an article in The Reader and I thought I would share my responses...I think it is important to acknowledge that we are a city of readers.

Like many other voracious readers and booksellers, owning a bookstore was a dream I had for a long time.  Every time I saw an empty storefront, I would access it's worthiness as a book shop.  One day while walking in the West Loop I saw a storefront with a "For Rent" sign on it and called the number.  After looking at the space and running the numbers, I decided to give it go.   Madison Street Books opened on March 14, of 2020.  And closed on March 16, 2020.  We re-opened to limited browsing at the end of June and have spent the last 9 months in various stages of open and closed pending the mandated  health and safety restrictions for our customers and staff.  We are currently open for browsing for up to 6 customers and look forward to the time when we can accommodate more.  We require that all customers wear a mask and use the single use gloves we provide.   The gloves seem extreme, but as book lovers ourselves we know how much book people like to touch their books.  Readers like to pick up a book and read the opening line or the last page, whatever their thing is.  This way we can keep the books safe and clean for everyone.

Acting as an anchor in the West Loop is part of our mission.  Regrettably, the bulletin board full of flyers with local information and events that we envisioned across from our checkout counter has yet to be filled.   However we are active members of Madison Row and the West Central Association which is the West Loop Chamber of Commerce.  We are working with some of the schools in the area on fundraisers both in the schools and on-line.  In-store we are hosting Dawn-Marie Rocks which is a sing-a-long with Miss Dawn-Marie Hamilton.  She is in the store on Wednesdays at 10:00am for a first come, first served crowd of 4 families (!), and is simultaneously broadcast to Facebook Live.  We are looking forward to expanding our in-store events for children and adults, as well as being able to work with other groups in the area, once more COVID restrictions are lifted. 

After a year (and what a year it has been) I am most proud of the fact that we are still in business.  That, and I am proud of our staff.  When the store went dark on March 16, I had no idea how we would survive without a customer base.  Word of mouth and some very thoughtful, well placed articles saved us.  Slowly the orders started to trickle in.  People started telling their friends and neighbors.  Our upstairs neighbors told their family. We had a Guardian Angel who sent a monthly check.  Soon we had orders coming in.  It was amazing and it helped us to get through.  Our staff was amazing as well.  They rolled with every up and down we experienced.  That said, as we reviewed last year's numbers and this year's budget, we realized we would not get through year 2 without additional support.  We launched a Go Fund Me 3 weeks ago to help us sustain year 2.  The support for it has been overwhelming and we are so grateful, but we are still reaching for our goal.

Chicago has always been a city that does it our own way.  We dig deep from within our own neighborhoods to provide ourselves with what we need.  We have one of the best literary communities in the country.  From the writers who put the words on the page, to the printers and publishers who turn them into books, to people who read those books, we are a city that celebrates the written word.  It is only natural that we esteem an independent, neighborhood book shop where one can lose themselves in the shelves and find an old favorite or a new release.  It is in an independent bookstore that one can get a recommendation from a bookseller, who has actually read that book, and can converse on it.  It is in an independent bookstore that a recommendation will lead one to a sleeper story that will become the next new  "must read".  It is in an independent bookstore where one's child can turn the pages of a picture book or listen to a lively story hour, while they engage in a discussion on the merits of their favorite author.  Who would want to live in a city or a world without that?

- Mary