57th Street Books opened in 1983. We are the sister store of The Seminary Co-op Bookstore and are located in the Hyde Park neighborhood on the south side of Chicago.
Tell us something interesting about your store.
Before our store occupied this space, another bookstore called Staver's Books operated here for many years. That store only used what is now our front room and used to wrap all of the books on their shelves in plastic. When they closed, the landlord of the building approached our former director, Jack Cella and proposed a second location. A few months later, and a few knocked-down walls, 57th Street Books was born and took over the entire 5 rooms of the building's basement. We do not wrap our books in plastic.
Do you have a holiday tradition at the store?
Each year, we try to hold a book drive for a local school as a part of our dedication to working with schools on a wide array of events and services. Also, one of our former booksellers instituted a Treat-a-Day program where every staff member has to sign up for one of the final days before Christmas. On their day it is their responsibility to provide a treat for the entire staff to graze or binge on throughout the day. It's a welcome and tasty way to make the long hours and large crowds that much more enjoyable.
What's the most memorable event or moment at your store?
We were Barack Obama's local bookstore when he lived in Hyde Park. I'm told he would stop in nearly every Sunday evening when the store was slow and browse quietly. When he published The Audacity of Hope in 2006, 57th Street Books hosted a signing with him. Hundreds of people lined up early in the morning to meet him. It was the largest audience to witness a book signing, period. ... just kidding... but it was a huge event for the store and there is still a photograph of him signing books hanging in our front room. Come back and visit, Barack! We miss you!
What bookstore do you consider to be a hidden gem?
Omnivore Books on Food in San Francisco is a great shop specializing in new and antiquarian cookbooks.