Chicago’s independent bookstores are the heart and soul of its vibrant literary community. Across the city, these booksellers host everything from open mic nights and book groups to readings from well-known and newly discovered authors. Many are also committed to giving back to their local communities. Oh, and they sell some pretty great books, too. Each locale has its own unique character that makes shopping there an experience in itself. So close that Amazon tab, head out the door and show some love to these Chicago independent bookstores.
You’ll spot this little shop easily by the whimsical neon sign in the window that reads, “Books sold here!” With floor-to-ceiling bookshelves spanning the entire store, you are sure to find something you like at Pilsen Community Books. Located in Chicago’s Lower West Side neighborhood known as Pilsen, the store is dedicated to supporting local schools by providing books to students. And if you’re someone who likes to browse in peace and quiet, Pilsen Community Books is the place for you. The shop’s employees respond to all inquiries via email, taking no phone calls, to keep the store a quiet, calming refuge from the bustle of the city.
The Book Cellar is the perfect place to spend an entire afternoon, as nestled within this little Lincoln Square bookshop is a small café selling salads, sandwiches, coffee and even wine by the glass. Make your purchases and then curl up in the cozy seating area with some food and a beverage and start reading. If you stick around until the evening you may even catch a book group or author talk.
Open Books is a massive used bookstore and nonprofit organization. It uses its proceeds to fund and run literacy and creative writing programs for Chicago youth. Its Pilsen and West Loop locations offer a huge selection of books so cheap you’ll want to bring a backpack to fill with your purchases. And the best part is that purchasing them helps a great cause.
Stop by this one-of-a-kind bookstore to fulfill all your reading and secret agent needs. In addition to a bevy of progressive titles, this shop provides everything a kid requires to become the perfect spy – from mustache disguises to soda can safes. And that’s not all. Behind a secret door in the back lies a huge writing center called 826CHI, which thousands of Chicago’s young people visit every year to partake in free creative writing programs. The Secret Agent Supply Co. also sells the published work of 826CHI’s student writers. Every dollar spent at the store goes to supporting 826CHI’s programs and amplifying student voices.
If you’re not looking for 57th Street Books, you might miss it, but this Hyde Park establishment is well worth seeking out. Take a few steps down through the small, unassuming entryway and you’ll find yourself in an expansive world of books. Inside, exposed brick walls adorned with Christmas lights stretch much further than you’d expect and give the store an old-time feel. What makes this place especially cool is that it’s part of Chicago’s Seminary Co-op, meaning it’s customer-owned.
The iconic Women and Children First bookstore is one of the last remaining feminist bookstores in the country. It is also one of the largest, with over 30,000 books that celebrate women writers and readers. Women and Children First is also known for its robust calendar of feminist literary events. You can wander into the store almost any night of the week and stumble upon a reading, author talk or book launch party taking place – all designed to raise women’s voices, especially those from marginalized communities.
Sandmeyer’s Bookstore is a family-owned gem located in the heart of Chicago’s historic Printer’s Row neighborhood. Printers and publishers occupied the buildings in this area throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, and while those companies are long gone, many of the structures that once held their printing presses remain. Visit the cozy Sandmeyer’s store at any time of year for a fantastic selection of books; if you visit in early June, you may just be there for the Printer’s Row Lit Fest, the largest book fair in the Midwest.
Unabridged Bookstore has been a staple of Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood for almost 40 years. It has a large collection of books of all kinds, but is known for celebrating local authors and for its large selection of LGBTQ titles. It’s also located in the center of Lakeview’s main shopping area, so it’s a perfect place to stop before exploring the rest of the neighborhood.
Opened in Wicker Park by two reading-obsessed sisters, Volumes Bookcafé is a delightful and relaxing café/bookshop hybrid. It’s a great place to visit to either browse for books or to order a cup of coffee and start writing one of your own. The Volumes calendar is chock-full of nighttime events like open mic nights and trivia nights. During the day it also offers story time (sometimes, bilingual story time) for the little ones.
Read it and Eat is a truly unique establishment. This Lincoln Park shop exclusively sells books related to food and drink, whether cookbooks, biographies, travel books or essays. The store also has a test kitchen where the staff try out recipes from the books it carries. Lucky customers who visit while they are cooking get the chance to try out the creations. The kitchen is also used for cooking classes, author/chef demonstrations and other exciting events.