Friday, December 30, 2016

Unabridged Books - Chicago, IL

Unabridged Books, Chicago, IL
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I recently visited an indie that has been around since the 1970s (there are more of these than you think) and expressed my admiration for such an enduring accomplishment.  The same is true of this wonderful indie in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago which began its journey in 1980.  Since 1980 it has not changed locations and has not changed owners, an achievement that I find equally remarkable.  But this store didn't start as your typical, general fiction bookstore.  Unabridged Books began as a gay bookstore and when it opened in 1980, times were different.  They perhaps had challenges that other bookstores may not have experienced.  In those beginnings, the customers were most exclusively gay and the space served not only as a bookstore, but a community center and place where people could express their concerns and find support from sympathetic staff or customers.  This is the ethos found in indies everywhere regardless of who or what we are.  Almost all the indies I visit, in one way or another, are centers of support and concern for the customers who gather there.  

Unabridged Books offers all new books in a one-level space.  You'll find two smaller rooms with two different stairways to a lower level, one room with calendars and the other with lots of travel guides and books.  Other than some journals and planners, there are no sidelines here.  The books are the thing and the good news is they are thriving.  In addition to the travel section, I thought the small press/translation offerings, children's section, and LGBT section were particularly strong.  As for staff recommendations, they are everywhere throughout the store.  Like many other bookstores I visit, Unabridged can feel a renaissance for the independent bookstore.  The store has a solid base of regular customers and also enjoys frequent visits from out-of-towners and tourists.

The staff here is second to none.  Ed D., the owner, told me (as did Katharine, one of the staffers) they pay a living wage to their booksellers and it is recognized as the best in the country.  They also offer health insurance.  This helps keep their employees here and provides good continuity for the store.  And I can attest that the employees are the best.  Katharine was an absolute wealth of information and she along with Owen and Yanni couldn't have been nicer to meet and visit with.

This indie is not only recognized locally, but nationally as well.  My mistake is that I didn't get to this one until now!  Take public transportation or park on the street if you drive.  Either way, don't put off and don't delay.  The next time you're in Chicago, put this wonderful bookstore at the top of your list.  Go to an indie and buy a book.  Bonsoir.

JUST FINISHED:  The Door, Magda Szab√≥.  A translation of this renowned Hungarian author.  This book gets lots of great reviews and I can see why.  Work of fiction but partly autobiographical story of a writer, Magda, who hires an older lady to be the housekeeper.  Emerence, the housekeeper, is an oddity and a very unusual literary character.  No one is ever allowed in her villa, she lives by herself, and is very strict in her behaviors and relationships.  She and the writer who hired her form a somewhat strained relationship over 20 years and in the end it is very meaningful.  This book won't be for everyone but I liked it.  Check out the movie on Youtube starring Helen Mirren.  Recommended.  

CURRENTLY READING:  I Thought You Were Dead, Pete Nelson.  

Another exterior view.  

A portion of the exterior window display.  

View looking into the store from the front entrance.  

Looking to the right from the front entrance.  

A great book display in the front of the store with lots of staff picks mixed in.  

Check out the new non-fiction table in the front of the store.

Unabridged offers books for all ages.  This is a great display for middle readers.  

After you enter and walk through the main room, go to the left to find lots of children's books.  

Find this display if you're on a budget.  

These are only a few of the Penguin classics in the store.  

Proceed downstairs... this room and pick out a 2017 calendar.  

A display of staff picks which is in addition to recommendations you'll find throughout the store.

A long row of bookshelves.  

Some of the bestsellers and favorites at Unabridged, a great display.  

After going through the main room, go to the right and check out this room.  Lots of classics, translations, and small press books found here.  

A second stairway downstairs... this room and just about anything you can imagine about travel.  

A strong section of small press publications.  

Staff picks in the LGBT section.  

With Katharine on the left, one of the fine staffers at Unabridged.  Thanks for a great visit.  

Five minutes before I left, Ed, the owner came in (on the left).  Thanks for a great visit.  

Monday, December 26, 2016

Poor Richard's Books - Frankfurt, KY

Poor Richard's Books, Frankfurt, KY
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Along my journey visiting bookstores across the country, there are some that become known to me before I visit them.  Many other bookstore owners had mentioned Poor Richard's Books to me and told me I needed to see it.  Mission accomplished.  The wonderful reputation I had heard about this store along my travels was confirmed on my visit.

This store is located in a historical building in downtown Frankfurt which is in Franklin County, named after Ben Franklin, which is how the store came up with the name, Poor Richard's (no relation to Poor Richard's Bookstore in Colorado Springs and no I haven't been there yet).  It has been here for 38 years, an incredible accomplishment for any indie, making it an iconic institution of the town.  This 2-level store has a distinct atmosphere on each floor.  The long, main floor room is packed with new, used, and collectable books, floor to ceiling and wall to wall.  On the day of my visit there was light jazz playing in the background to the accompaniment of the creaking floor under my footsteps, the best.  Proceed upstairs to Richard's Attic for a totally different atmosphere that any book lover will not want to miss.  Open the old, creaking door to nothing but used and collectable books packed in a very dark, quiet, and very large room, the only sound is your footsteps.  I opened a book with an inscription composed in 1901.  This is the kind of room that might make you wonder about ghosts if you were here late at night.  I loved it and you have to see it.

In addition to all the books, the offerings by local authors and of local interest were particularly strong, in my opinion.  There are a few sidelines here including some greeting cards, interesting coffee mugs, magazines, and children's items to name a few.  Elizabeth T., the owner, is also watching for new non-book possibilities that she might bring in to offer customers.  The store is connected on the inside to a wonderful cafe where you can enjoy coffee, baked goods, or a light lunch of soup, salad, or sandwich.  This is a great partnership for both businesses.

Elizabeth along with Mark and her staff are some of the best people you can meet, just like every bookstore I visit.  There continues to be challenges though for Poor Richard's, especially with the recent loss of 4000 government jobs in Frankfort, a town of approximately 25,000.  This is where the remaining citizens can play an important role for this indie.  On your next visit, don't buy one book, buy two.  Buy a gift.  Take a friend along to do the same.  Whatever you do, don't overlook or take for granted a bookstore that others would love to have in their hometowns.  Go to an indie and buy a book.  Bonsoir.

JUST FINISHED:  How Starbucks Saved My Life, Michael Gates Gill.  A "feel-good" memoir about the author growing up and having a very privileged childhood, attending Yale, and becoming a high-powered executive pulling down 6-figures, until he was fired.  What to do?  He re-invented himself and found out what his life had been missing for so many years.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  Recommended.  

CURRENTLY READING:  The Door, Magda Szabo.

RECENTLY PURCHASED:  Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs.  The Cay, Theodore Taylor.  The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August, Claire North.  

Looking into one of the front windows.  

Looking straight into the store from the front entrance.  There is a connecting entryway in the picture to the right that leads to the cafe.  

Just inside the front door you can find some great Kentucky postcards.  

A few of the greeting cards available in the front of the store.  

Have a seat and give a book a test drive.  

Some of the magazines available.  

A good variety of sidelines.  

For Kentucky history buffs, this store is a required visit.  

Kids will love these.  

Some great books of local interest.  

A nice assortment of journals.  

A portion of the children's section.  

You'll find these on the main floor, at the foot of the stairs leading to Richard's Attic.  

View from the back of the store looking toward the front entrance.  

Read these directions and proceed.  

Just inside the door of the 2nd floor, Richard's Attic.  

This space is a collector's delight.  

A long view along one of the walls of books.  

The front of Richard's Attic looking back toward the stairway where you enter.  

A long wall of bookshelves in Richard's Attic.  

Back downstairs, bring your book club in and discuss your next book.  

With Elizabeth on the right, the fine owner at Poor Richard's Books.  Thanks for a great visit.  

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Wild Fig Books & Coffee - Lexington, KY

Wild Fig Books & Coffee, Lexington, KY
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Regular readers know that I've visited celebrated bookstores that are owned by authors.  People like Ann Patchett at Parnassus in Nashville and Louise Erdich at Birchbark Books in Minneapolis.  Unfortunately, these authors weren't in their stores when I visited.  My bad luck with that changed in one visit at Wild Fig Books & Coffee.  This store is owned by husband and wife Ron D. and Crystal W., both authors with published works AND both present on the day of my visit.  So I met two great people, saw a wonderful bookstore, and picked up two books with their personal inscriptions.  Exactly how all bookstore visits should be!

Wild Fig has been in its current location in the North Lime neighborhood of Lexington for about a year, but Crystal and Ron have had the business for about five years now.  This new location has allowed them to expand their cafe where you can enjoy the usual morning fare of a coffee, cappuccino, tea and pastry.  They also have a varied food menu where you can enjoy a light lunch of various salads or sandwiches.  Even though they've only been here a year, Crystal told me they're already noticing regular customers on the cafe side and regulars on the book side.  The transition to this new location continues to be a challenge since many of the regulars at their former location haven't followed them here.

The bookstore is a one-level space located in a historical building that was originally a family home.  I think it has a great rustic vibe and relaxing atmosphere.  Wild Fig carries a mix of new and used books as well as a few sidelines including t-shirts, greeting cards, unique socks, and a good assortment of jazz on vinyl.  At this new location, Ron told me they're open to the possibility of expanding their non-book inventory in time, something I think is worth considering at all indies.  They're also considering resuming their story time for kids, something they did at the former location.

It was great to meet both Crystal and Ron during my visit, who were nice to take so much time to talk to me while I was at the store.  As with many of my bookstore visits, they told me much more than I can relate to you in this brief write-up.

For those of you in Lexington who haven't discovered this place yet, it's time for you to step up and step in.  It's time you pay a visit to a wonderful bookstore and cafe and the terrific people you'll meet there.  Go to an indie and buy a book.  Bonsoir.

JUST FINISHED:  I'll Sell You A Dog, Juan Pablo Villalobos.  I always wonder when I read a translation that doesn't grab me if the problem is the author or the translation.  That's the case with this book.  An elderly man lives in a retirement building, drinks a lot of beer, and antagonizes the building's literary salon, mostly women.  In his younger years he sold tacos from a taco wagon.  The story goes back and forth.  Filled with oddball characters.  This book gets some good review but it wasn't one of my favorites.  

CURRENTLY READING:  How Starbucks Saved My Life, Michael Gates Gill.  

RECENTLY PURCHASED:  The Birds Of Opulence, Crystal Wilkinson.  Tangerine Tubman, upfromsumdirt.    

The wonderful mural on the side of Wild Fig Books & Coffee, a tribute to Ron and Crystal's lost daughter.  

What could be better than hanging out on Wild Fig's front porch, sipping a latte and trying out a book!

View looking into the store from the front entrance.  

Another view from the front entrance.  

Looking to the left of the store from the front entrance.  

Looking back toward the cafe on the right.  A great place for a coffee or a lunch.  

You can't beat the unique socks found in independent bookstores.  

Lots of great options in the cafe.  

View looking from the back of the store toward the front.

I love this book cover artwork that Ron did for Crystal's book.  

Jazz lovers should definitely pay this store a visit.  

Another view across the front of the store.  

With Crystal on the left and Ron on the right, the fine co-owners at Wild Fig.  Thanks for a great visit.