Sunday, September 29, 2013

Powell's Bookstores Chicago- North Store

 my friend david sorich and i went to the powell's chicago north location at 2850 n lincoln ave. to document the space after we found out they would be closing mid november 2013. 

the rare book room appears to have a skull's face-
very fitting as a horror film was shot there a few years ago.
this room used to be filled with shelves full of books to be sold online
behind the scenes

this space and business have meant much and has been the scene of small moments that changed several people's lives. helped them find better selves, and was a place to goof off and quest for a book.

Chicago isn't the best at maintaining its historical buildings. We are a go go go city seemingly trying to escape the identity of the Midwest and reaching for the coastal glories of NYC and LA.  But Chicago is a beautiful city, and our Midwestern-ness is beloved as much as it is shied away from.  Our intimate histories, fables, and the tiny bits that make Chicago special are relatively unknown to those who don't seek them out or who are not born here. 
Powell's Books Chicago is often confused with Powells in Portland OR and quite understandably.  Most people are unaware that we are separate/sister stores, or that Powell's originated on Chicago's south side in Hyde Park long before Powell's OR was even a glimmer in Michael Powell's eye. Beautifully Powell's OR has flourished but bookstores is Chicago have not done so well- exemplified by the closing of Borders and several small independent used bookstore across the city minimizing staff or closing entirely. Powell's Chicago in the Lincoln Park neighborhood is an example of this.  The building is still owned by the absent Michael Powell even though the business is run locally by co-owner Bradley Jonas. 6 years ago we employees were told the building was up for sale. It about broke our hearts.  It's hard to describe what the space means to us now, or what it meant to many of us as children- it was the first bookstore I visited as a young adult.  I would make my way across the city to climb the rickety ladders to reach the high shelves, patrol the rare book room for gems full of long ago drawn maps, lithographic copies of Audubon's  "Birds of America," or something unexpected and full of beautiful topography.  Several of us grew up and quit our jobs to take a significant pay cut to have back-room access to the fun books that entered our store from the many boxes we received daily from the Powell's warehouse or from house call buys that varied from disgusting to magical.  My life changed during my time as an employee at the Powell's Chicago North location, as did several of my coworkers. Several of us fell in love and even married. Terrible things also happened to many us while working at Powell's North. It was a a place that had the option of spurring on change as well as the ability to keep you on the edge of your seat desirous to go but aching also to stay.  We all have experiences like this.  Grand moments of choice, change, or staying the same. The bookstore is still open.  Every so often we are told that we might need to pack up and remove all the books in a matter of 14 days, but as yet it hasn't come true.  Since the choice was made to sell the building we have had many buyers walk through, and almost purchase.  We have had movies filmed on premises, we have had parties, poetry readings, music shows, and almost weddings. 

Powell's North isn't a beautiful building, and once it sells it will undoubtedly be torn down and condo's built in it's place.  I recognize the overall deterioration of building, and admittedly I detest new construction built quickly without much integrity or individuality.  I want to celebrate the beauty of the changeable and the truth both ugly and wonderful that makes up everyday life.  There are the larger ideas here as regards to the crumbling book world, the changeableness of the city, and simply saying goodbye to a local institution. 

A week after I wrote this little essay we started boxing up the North Store.   The building hasn't been sold, but we are packing up and moving out.  There is no other bookstore I can think of that has layers of books on cases piled so high in so vast a space.  If you know of any please share.
Come visit before we are gone- and keep a look out for art projects in the old building- they are coming.

Photo by David Sorich

Sunday, September 8, 2013