Back To The Future: Neighborhood Bookstores

Now that winter is giving way to spring, I was eager to get back outside for my customary lunchtime walk abouts. A lot has changed since the last time I engaged in these jaunts. In particular, the Borders bookstores that used to anchor my routes downtown and in Hyde Park are no longer open. So what is a bibliophile who needs fresh air and exercise to do now?

Powell's Books

Powell's Books in Hyde Park

Fortunately, my neighborhood, home of the University of Chicago, has no shortage of small bookstores that were here before the appearance of Borders and have now outlasted it. As a student, I spent a lot of time in the bookstores that line 57th Street, so I decided that now would be a great time to revisit and rediscover these treasures of my youth.

First I visited Powell’s Books which sells mostly used books. This was my most frequent destination during my college years and in many ways has scarcely changed at all. Upon entering, I was pleased to find that my favorite sections were exactly where I remembered them to be. I swung by Physics first and found some pretty cool books, including a primer on electric propulsion. Yeah, ion engines! Then I headed straight to the basement corner containing Science Fiction where I was pleased to find a great selection with paperbacks priced from about $2 – $5 on average. I also found a small selection of manga including Evangelion Campus Apocalypse Volume 2 for $5, over 50% off of the $10.99 cover price! Back upstairs in the graphic novels section, I would find my best bargain of all, Alter Ego: Avatars and their creators, brand new and sealed for $4.95, 83% off of the $29.95 list price!

Powell's Sci-Fi Corner

Powell's Basement Sci-Fi Corner

After leaving Powell’s, I passed by the O’Gara and Wilson bookstore. Old habits never die, I rarely visited O’Gara’s as a student because they usually didn’t have the science fiction books I was looking for. I’m glad to see they are still in business, but I will visit them another day!

57th Street Books

57th Street Books

My final destination was 57th Street Books, part of the Seminary Co-op. This was, and still is, a small bookstore selling new books and magazines. It also has regular reading and other events that one generally expects of a bookstore. I wanted to check out their magazine and manga selection. eBooks are great for books that are mostly text, but graphic novels and magazines are still a week spot. So I still buy those in physical form usually.

The magazine section wasn’t quite as big as I remembered, though it was never all that huge anyway. Nice selection, but I couldn’t find any web design magazines today. The graphic novel section was quite good, though manga itself was pretty light. I did find a copy of Tezuka’s Ayako, but at almost $30, still too expensive for me. They had some volumes of Black Jack too! The staff was really friendly too. I ended up just buying a copy of Wired magazine and, thanks to the helpful staff found that my wife still had a membership there, from more decades ago than I care to admit to! The membership was good for a 10% discount.

Further west, Barnes & Noble runs the University of Chicago bookstore, which I visited last week. The general bookstore is pretty small with only a tiny manga section. But other than that, it’s like any other B & N, and since it’s farther away than the other bookstores, I won’t be getting over there too often.

I haven’t given up on eBooks, but for now at least, neighborhood bookstores will continue to play a role in my life as a reader of books.

My Bookstore Spoils

My Bookstore Spoils

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