Open Books. Because I’m overdue to add a new bookstore to my list of Best Used Bookstores in Chicago
Sorry, but no rants here. I got more important stuff to talk about today: I found a new used bookstore in Chicago.
Well, it’s new to me at least. Open Books at 213 W. Institute Pl (downtown by the Chicago brown line) has been around since 2009 and the nonprofit organization behind it was started in 2006. As you can read on their website, it’s a bookstore with a cause (actually, many causes)- “Open Books is an award-winning nonprofit social venture that operates an extraordinary bookstore, provides community programs, and mobilizes passionate volunteers to promote literacy in Chicago and beyond.” That’s a mouthful, am I right? So I went down to Open Books last week to talk with Kevin Elliott, the bookstore’s manager, to learn more about the store and to see if their book selection is up to my standards.
On the day I went to meet with Kevin, there was actually a field trip going on, one of the many programs that Open Books offers. And before Kevin could finish talking about the field trip, the bookstore spontaneously filled up with a few dozen bubbling 3rd graders running through the store like their recess bell just rang. “If you’ll just excuse me until things calm down a bit, but feel free to look around!” Kevin told me over the noise before disappearing into the crowd of elementary school students.
After completing the programs, participants are given a coupon for one free book of their choice from the store, and they waste no time in trying to find the perfect one. Some kids were in the children’s section, while some braved the more complex topics (i.e. books without pictures). Some gathered stacks as they tried to narrow down which one they would take home.
It was a great thing to see, and the whole situation seemed almost alien to me. I’ve actually never seen kids so excited about reading books before. Like I said, they were so excited it looked like they were on recess on the first warm day of spring. It’s easy to see why this is one of Kevin’s favorite parts of the day as he directs the kids towards the book sections based on their interests: the reference section, graphic novels, sports, and more. The programs and writing workshops have a very visible and very positive influence on these kids and I applaud the group and volunteers that help these programs come to life:
- Open Books Buddies- Twice a week, this program provides elementary students with trained, supportive mentor and role model to boost reading skills over the course of the academic year.
- Adventures in Creative Writing- Nonfiction field trip writing workshops to help 3rd-12th graders develop writing and storytelling skills.
- VWrite- an 8-12 week program that pairs students with mentors to promote post-high school success.
- Publishing Academy- aspiring teen writers are given the opportunity to publish their own novel.
- Read ThenWrite- students read and discuss literature pieces, and then (over the course of several weeks) write a short memoir or narrative which is then published by Open Books.
Two other things to note about the programs-
They are made possible in part, by the hundreds of volunteers that have donated their time to Open Books over the years
And also, students get to wear this awesome pencil-suit when they read their work in front of everyone:
Okay awesome, so Open Books is a mission-driven bookstore that runs on donations that support its literacy and writing programs. It’s a noble cause, but that means the selection is going to be sub-par, right? And it’s going to be understandably busy and disorganized after being swamped with student field trips 4 times a week, right?
Wrong on both ends.
The quality of the literacy programs at Open Books bleeds into the quality of the bookstore, and provides a selection that rivals any other good used bookstore. All of the books tend to be in the $5-7 range. They’re organized by genre, and then alphabetized by author.
Still don’t see what you’re looking for? Check with Kevin at the front desk, all the books are digitally cataloged.
Afraid of seeing the same books month after month? Open Books has frequent discounts and sales to keep the shelves moving.
When’s the next one? Half off sale, June 22-23, 50% off all used books in the store. Mark your calendars and see you then!
If you’re interested in getting involved, you can look into the many volunteer opportunities on the Open Books website. But the easier way to support Open Books is to donate your books to the store, where 100% of proceeds go toward the literacy programs. And the all-time easiest way to support these programs is to go to Open Books and buy some used books. I like the 3rd one best.