There’s something to be said for pursuing the isles of an independently run bookstore. They exist outside of time in a way. Yet, they’re also harder to come by nowadays as life gets taken over by 24-hour shipping times and big box stores.
As World Book Day approaches this Sunday, April 23, we’re celebrating by running through some of Chicago’s best indie bookstores.
For all the bibliophiles, new readers, or casual consumers out there, here are 10 local bookstores to support in Chicago.
1. Unabridged Bookstore
Known as the leading LGBTQ+ bookseller, Unabridged books has been in its Lakeview spot for the past 35 years. Serving the community well with handwritten recommendations, you’ll want to keep supporting this local treasure forever.
Address: 3251 N Broadway, Chicago, IL 60657
2. Quimby’s Bookstore
Welcome to your new zine utopia. Quimby’s is all about counter-culture. For over 25 years, they have been serving their community with a bevy of literary options, graphic novels, independent zines, and more.
Address: 1854 W North Ave, Chicago, IL 60622
3. Open Books
Known as one of the largest used bookstores in Chicago, Open Books has over 50,000 works to choose from. The bookstore also gives back, with a creative writing program and an Imagination Library program that mails books to eager kids. There are also book grants for educators, a program that gifts books to low-income communities, schools, and nonprofits alike.
Address: 651 W Lake St, Chicago, IL 60661
4. 57th Street Books
This locally run co-op is run by customers as part of Chicago’s Seminary Co-op. One of two independent bookstores located south, this hidden gem curates interest titles but also features everything from indie titles to fiction and academic titles. It’s almost impossible to walk away empty-handed.
Address: 1301 E 57th St, Chicago, IL 60637
5. Women & Children First
Located in Andersonville, this feminist bookstore does it all. They host author readings, support groups, and more. Alongside a grand collection of new, indie, and up-and-coming writers of course. The selection is endless with hand-picked staff favorites and an undeniably charming atmosphere.
Address: 233 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640
6. Sandmeyer’s Bookstore
This sweet family-run bookstore is the perfect counter-offering to Amazon’s bleak facade. Located in an old printing press, the bookstore has been around since the 1980s and plays up the nostalgic factor to its favor. There’s an expansive selection to browse through, and the annual Printer’s Row Literary Festival in June.
Address: 714 S Dearborn St, Chicago, IL 60605
7. Volumes Bookcafe
Two book-loving sisters, Rebecca and Kimberly, first started this glorious book-cafe hybrid in Wicker Park with much success coming their way since their opening day. With a fully stocked cafe, secure your favorite beverage before roaming the cherry, well-stocked isles of this gorgeous store. The store caters to its community by hosting bilingual-focused storytime for international kids, as well as weekly trivia, scrabble, and open mic nights for adults.
Address: 1373 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60622
8. Uncharted Books
Since opening in 2012, Uncharted Books has been charting its own path thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign. The rare and used bookstore is a sight to behold with resident dogs and kind staff willing to help with recommendations. Open Tuesday-Sunday from 11-7, they also host poetry slams and author readings, too. Come one, come all, to this rare gem of a bookstore.
Address: 5140 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640
9. The Book Cellar
The Book Cellar is the place to be if you’re involved in the Chicago literary scene. With an impressive selection of well-curated books lining the shelves, you’re likely to strike up a conversation or two with the knowledgeable staff. Grab a cup of coffee at the cafe or stop for a quick bite as their fully stocked menu is a delight to behold. Stay for any number of weekly events– from comedy shows to author readings, to local book clubs, and more.
Address: 4736 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60625
With two fully stocked floors to browse, it’s easy to get lost in the new and used stacks at after-words. Located in downtown Chicago, the hand-curated store shows off well in ultra-chic interior shoppers are sure to love. There are over 7,000 new and used books to look through, and the curated selections feature everything from local authors to a children’s section, as well as history, architecture, and more. They also host reading events, guest lecturers, and book signings, too.
Address: 23 E Illinois St, Chicago, IL 60611
11. Understudy Coffee and Books
At The Understudy, it’s all in the details. Half bookstore, half coffee shop, The Understudy sits quietly on Andersonville street, but head inside and you’ll find an airy split space filled to the brim with books, plays, and yes a bustling coffee shop.
Focusing on texts related to theater, here you’ll find scripts, biographies, theatrical-themed novels, art books, and young adult books displayed proudly on shelves. With an estimated 2,500-3,000 titles in stock, there’s something for everyone to enjoy whether you’re a theater connoisseur or a novice.
Address: 5531 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640
To be honest, it was hard to narrow down the list to only 11 local bookstores. We’re lucky to have so many glorious, diverse, and independently-run bookstores in the city. A few other local finds include Semicolon Bookstore & Gallery, Myopic Books, RoscoeBooks, City Lit Books, Pilsen Community Books, and Madison Street Books.