Even in the age of online shopping, Chicago’s independent bookstores are decidedly here to stay. The best bookstores in the Windy City have knowledgeable staff, handpicked recommendations, good books to read, local author sections, literary events, and regular book signings.
Perhaps it’s not surprising in the city that produced or inspired many writers, such as Ernest Hemingway, Carl Sandburg, and David Mamet.
The metropolitan setup as a city of neighborhoods helps, too. Chicago is made up of urban villages, many of which have their own Main Street and commercial zones. That’s where you hang out—and where you go when you’re looking for something new to read. When you find yourself staying in the city, here’s where to browse the stacks.
As one of the few independent bookstores downtown, you discover this River North seller stocks over 70,000 new and used titles after just a few minutes of browsing. Your favorite thing about After-Words is that it stays open until 10 pm on weekdays, which means you can stroll in after getting drinks with a friend or sightseeing Chicago’s major attractions earlier in the day. As street lamps with signs on them guide you through the stacks, you take your time walking the two huge floors. Once you purchased your paperbacks, you consider staying longer for a literary event.
You spent the morning enjoying the outdoors at Grant Park, and the only thing that could make your day more delightful is a new book from Sandmeyer’s in South Loop, just a short walk away. The brick exterior greets you into this family-owned store. Once you’ve spent a few minutes there, you already know it specializes in new releases, travel guides, and children’s literature. From time to time, you can even catch a book release event or author visit here.
A Wicker Park staple, Myopic is one of the oldest and largest used bookstores in the city. You need a few hours to browse through three levels of books, stacked floor-to-ceiling, or to enjoy the serene top-floor reading space. In addition to selling your used books and buying new ones, you catch a poetry reading, and discover that such performances have been a staple here for over a decade. Stumbling in on a Monday, after a long day of work, you take in an experimental music presentation for a taste of something new.
City Lit Books
You quickly realize that finding good books to read in Logan Square is easy at City Lit, a community-focused bookstore that’s owned by a neighborhood resident. You go in looking for new releases, literature in Spanish, and a large selection of children’s books. As you browse the shelves, you find thoughtful, hand-written recommendations from the staff, helping you add to your stack to buy. After you find your books, you browse the online calendar on your phone and find an array of events that pique your interest: book clubs, author visits, open mic nights, and even a story time.
For vintage-to-almost-new editions, you walk over a few blocks to Uncharted Books. When you enter, the friendly shop dog Ramona welcomes you to the establishment. The laid-back atmosphere encourages you to spend hours browsing and reading at one of the many tables available. You make sure to ask for books by local authors, which are sold on consignment, and even find yourself chatting with the owner. You love that, because it was envisioned as a creative space for the community—this store hosts book clubs, game nights, open mics, and even a monthly comedy show, offering more than just a chance to add to your home library.