An anonymous editorial in last Friday’s edition of the Chicago Sun-Times lamented budget cuts at the Chicago Public Library (CPL) and suburban public libraries at a time when, for the first time in decades, not only aren’t local authors rushing off to New York City as soon as they sign publishing contracts, but authors from elsewhere are settling here (“Local literary boom shows importance of good library”). In 2011, the founders of the proposed American Writers Museum even chose to setup their operation here.
It goes without saying that writers depend on libraries not only to carry their books after they are published, but to read the works of earlier writers. The un-credited editorial writer pointed out that years ago the playwright and screenwriter David Mamet told the Sun-Times he was inspired by the works of Philip Roth and Saul Bellow, which he found in the fiction stacks at the old central library of the CPL, the Chicago Public Library, which is now the Chicago Cultural Center.
Between 2005 and 2011, circulation at the CPL has increased 36%, yet because of financial difficulties, 120 staff members were laid-off two years ago and more were laid-off this year. All facilities are open, but hours have been reduced. This is consistent with the conclusion of a PEW Charitable Trusts report issued last week that at the same time government bodies cut public library budgets, they presented them with a “shadow mandate” to become community centers.
Christopher Borelli wrote a nice tribute to Roger Carlson and Bookman’s Alley in the Chicago Tribune’s Arts + Entertainment section on Tuesday (“A bookstore’s denouement”). Every month since December of last year, Carlson, who is eighty-three years old, has told customers he would close his popular secondhand bookshop at the end of this month or next month.
After he suffered two accidents nine months apart, Carlson assured his children he would close the shop and retire. Bookman’s Alley is literally in an alley in Evanston. Borrelli described it. “It can still be found in a low-slung brick building behind Sherman Avenue that, with ‘Harry Potter’-like surrealism, looks smaller than it is, stretching room to room to room long after that seemed possible.”
Famous authors who have dropped by over the years, many of them escorted by Bill Young, include Garrison Keillor, David Mamet, P.D. James, Annie Proulx, David Remnick, Kurt Vonnegut, and former Secretary of State Alexander Haig. Audrey Niffenegger set a scene in The Time Traveler’s Wife in the shop.
For twenty-five years, Carlson, a native of Minnesota, was an ad salesman for National Geographic and Fortune before he started to sell secondhand books out of a garage stall thirty-three years ago. The Internet changed everything and he refused to change with the times. Until last November, he did not accept credit cards. He never setup a Web site. Bookman’s Alley had its first sale recently.
The book trade used to be very different. Every sizable town used to have an independent bookshop before many of them were run out of business by competition from national retail chains – Waldenbooks, Crown Books, Barnes & Noble, and Borders, even before over expansion and competition with Amazon.com led all of those chains with the sole exception of Barnes & Noble to fail.
This is a list of bookshops I miss:
Drummer & Thumbs, Campbell Street, Arlington Heights, IL
The Savvy Traveler, 310 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago
Prairie Avenue Bookshop in Chicago
Borders, 830 Michigan North Avenue, Chicago (across from the Water Tower)
Borders, 1500 16th Street, Suite D, Oak Brook, IL (across from Oakbrook Center)
Borders, 1144 Lake Street, Oak Park, IL (in old Marshall Field’s building)
Borders, 101 Rice Lake Square, Wheaton, IL
Rain Dog Books, Michigan Avenue, Chicago
The Stars Our Destination Bookstore, 1021 West Belmont Avenue, Chicago
Kroch’s & Brentano’s in Randhurst Shopping Mall in Mount Prospect, Illinois
My Book Exchange, 314 West Ogden Avenue, Westmont, IL
Rizzoli Bookstore, Water Tower Place
Rizzoli Bookstore, Oakbrook Center, Oakbrook, IL
Stuart Brent’s, Michigan Avenue
Borders, 1539 East 53rd Street, Hyde Park, Chicago
Borders, 161 North Weber Road, Bolingbrook, IL
Waldenbooks, Yorktown Shopping Center, Lombard, Illinois
Borders, 1540 Golf Road, Schaumburg, IL (across from Woodfield Mall)
Borders, 336 South Route 59, Naperville, IL (near Fox Valley Mall)
Borders, 2210 West 95th Street, Beverly, Chicago
Nina Metz reported in the Chicago Tribune’s Arts + Entertainment section on Tuesday that Rev. Al Toledo and his flock at the Chicago Tabernacle in Albany Park, which Ms. Metz described as “A nondenominational Christian church affiliated with the Assemblies of God” has offered to acquire the Portage Theater, an art house cinema on Milwaukee Avenue in the Portage Park neighborhood on the Northwest Side of Chicago (“Church has eye on Portage Theater”). The church is petitioning the City of Chicago to allow for the conversion of the old movie palace into a house of worship.
The Portage Theater was built in 1920. It is one of the few old movie palaces in Chicago where movies are still screened. Most of the others have been torn down like the Adelphi and Grenada Theaters in Rogers Park, stand empty like the Colony Theater in Marquette Park, or converted into playhouses as with the Chicago Theatre Preservation Group’s restoration and conversion of the Chicago Theatre (built as the Balaban & Katz Chicago Theatre).
Currently, the Northwest Chicago Film Society screens classic films at the Portage Theater, which also has a Silent Film Festival every summer. It has B-movie horror movie marathons under the title Terror in the Aisles.
Alderman John Arena of the 45th Ward wrote on the City of Chicago’s EveryBlock Web site he was not opposed to the church coming to Portage Park, but “the loss of this historic icon in the heart of the Six Corners Shopping District would reverse years of planning and development. The historic Portage Theater can serve as an economic engine for the area.” Rev. Toledo countered that his 800-member congregation can also provide an economic engine for the community. He said that recently members of the congregation have begun to make concerted efforts to patronize businesses in Portage Park.
According to Ms. Metz, Alderman Arena’s message alerted fans, almost 1,000 of whom have joined a Facebook page Save the Portage Theater. I was able to find references to this effort on Facebook, but not the page itself.
Rev. Toledo contends that the Portage Theater still requires several million dollars in repairs. “We would be willing to really make it beautiful.”
For six years, his congregation has sought a larger venue in which to hold church services. Previously, he was pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City, which was housed in a former movie palace.
I appreciate that the congregation needs more space and Rev. Toledo would like to replicate in Chicago a positive experience he had in Brooklyn, but surely this does not necessitate the closure of the Portage Theater. Is there no other venue they could use?
Is there not some church with sufficient space and a smaller congregation that could share space with them? Perhaps they could purchase a shuttered church. Is there no way they could remodel the theater in such a way as to accommodate church services, which if the Chicago Tabernacle is anything like most churches are mostly held during the day, while still allowing for the screening of classic films at night?
Concerts, plays, and operas are all collaborative art forms we brought from Europe. It is true that our French allies can take as much credit for the invention of movie-making technology as we Americans can, and with Cabiria(1914) Giovanni Pastrone beat D.W. Griffith to the punch when it came to making the first epic film, but filmmaking as we know it is nonetheless a truly American art form. Every time an art house cinema (what the French call a cinmathèque)that screens classic or other beloved films closes, it is a blow to American culture because it becomes harder for film buffs to share the experience of watching those old films together. Some of them can be found on DVD (and Blu-ray) with the help of FacetsMultimedia and the like, but then film buffs watch them alone or in small groups.
It is grand that with videotapes, laser discs, DVDs, Blu-ray Discs, and streaming videos on the Internet one can watch films like Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959) in the comfort of one’s home, especially for people who do not live anywhere near an art house theater, but then watching a movie becomes an isolating experience in a culture that already is too isolating thanks to the effects of television and the Internet. The closure of movie revival theaters also makes it harder for older film buffs to pass along their love of films to younger generations.
You might be thinking, “What’s he worried about? Two or three new movies are released every weekend.” While that’s true, only a few films released in any given year are truly good films, much less great films. People who limit themselves to watching only films that have recently been released or only watching American films (or only watching American-made and English-made films) are unwittingly cheating themselves of the experience of watching the best films from the Hollywood studio era and the best foreign language films. Half the fun of watching a film with an intricate plot, breathtaking cinematography, a moving film score, or witty dialogue is being able to discuss those things with other people.
It used to be that a secondhand or antiquarian book dealer would have to communicate with other book dealers, possibly in New York City or London, to find rare books for clients. Now, unless one is searching for something truly rare, such as a book handwritten by a monk or incunabula (books printed before 1501), virtually any book can be found through a combination of a Google search and a search of Amazon.com and Alibris.com. Owners of antiquarian and secondhand bookshops have to charge prices competitive with prices of books listed by other booksellers (who ranged from other bookshop owners to bibliophiles who’ve suffered financial setbacks and are desperate to sell their collections) on Amazon. Many of them have either setup Web sites or started to list stock through Amazon or done both.
Borders & Music owned Waldenbooks. Many Waldenbooks shops were rebranded as Borders Express shops before Borders collapsed last year. After the collapse of Borders, Book-A-Million (BAM), which had purchased the remaining Crown Books stores after Crown Books filed for bankruptcy, has emerged as the second-largest chain with 200 shops around the country, most of which are either in the Midwest, Northeast, and the South. Andy Weiss, owner of A & S Booksellers, Inc. in California, purchased the Crown Books name and applied it to some stores in his small chain.
My friends Rob and Sheila Baker owned this bookshop that sold new and used books, movies, and music. I worked there part-time for a few years. A customer once told me the place reminded him of the magic bookshop from The NeverEnding Story (1984).
This was more than a bookshop, but it sold fabulous books on distant places.
This was a great place to get books on architecture.
This was a four-story tall bookshop with a second floor café with a great view of the Water Tower.
Rain Dog Books is still in business, but strictly as an internet business with a P.O. Box in Winnetka.
Alice Bentley named her science fiction/fantasy bookstore in honor of a science fiction novel Alfred Bester. She also owned Weinberg Books, a mail-order bookshop. She moved to Seattle after she sold her stock to DreamHaven Books, a bookshop in Minneapolis that sells horror, science fiction, and fantasy novels; movie books; artworks; and comic books and graphic novels.
This was a secondhand bookshop.
Rizzoli Bookstore still exists in New York City.
Adam Brent owns Brent Books & Cards in Chicago, on the corner of Washington and Franklin. He also owns the on-line bookstore, Pennyworth Books.The Brent family also setup the Stuart Brent Children’s Book Club.