Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Chicago Bookstores: Hyde Park

The "Memoirs A-Z" book case at Powell's -
if you read this blog regularly, you know
I'm partial to memoirs, so it will come
as no surprise that this is one of my
favorite haunts.
Coming to Chicago and itching for a good bookstore browse? My neighborhood, Hyde Park, dominated by the University of Chicago campus, is unique in that it features four amazing bookstores within a few blocks, and that's not even counting the university bookstore managed by Barnes & Noble. Hyde Park is only a short bus ride (about 20 minutes, depending on traffic) from downtown:

Directions: Take bus #6 (Jackson Park Express) – if you're here for AWP this week, you can catch it right outside the Chicago Hilton on Balbo (east of Michigan Ave). The #6 can also be caught at several stops on State Street in the Loop. The #10 Museum Campus bus is also a possibility as it takes you straight to the Museum of Science and Industry, which is worth a visit in and of itself. You'll need to walk one block more going west than if you take the #6. You can also take a taxi; a ride to Hyde Park is about $15. Finding a taxi back is a bit of an issue, but during Museum hours you can find taxis right in front of the museum. A single bus ride currently costs $2.25 in cash.

Powells' Bookstore, 1501 E. 57th Street. Once you get off the bus, walk west on 57th Street, through the underpass (you'll see it from the bus stop). After the underpass you walk about half a block and you will find Powell’s on the left side of the street. This is the mecca of used books in the city, and due to the high academic traffic, their selection changes constantly and is quite sophisticated.

O'Gara & Wilson Ltd., 1448 E. 57th Street. The same is true for O’Gara’s, another great and venerable used book store, Chicago's oldest, in fact. It has a more antiquarian feel to it, and is almost across the street from Powell’s (half a block farther west).

57th Street Books, 1301 E. 57th Street. If you feel like browsing new books as well, continue on 57th Street as 57th Street Books is three blocks down, a comfortable walk. They carry a good selection of literary magazines, and also have a wonderful children's book section.

Seminary Co-op Bookstore, 5757 S. University Ave. If you want to visit President Obama’s favorite bookstore, continue two blocks on 57th Street until you hit University Ave (you will pass a light), then turn left, and go south for one block. The Seminary Co-op is in the basement of a church. It's moving in August, so this is the last chance to experience the original labyrinthine basement location with heating pipes hissing at you. Their selection is literary and scholarly. You will find the latest books on all scientific discussions there as it is one of the best academic bookstores in the world.

Outside the Oriental Institute on a
recent visit
If you've made it to the Seminary Co-op, you're right on campus, with a view of the quads, the main square of campus with its neo-Gothic and ivy-laden buildings. The Oriental Institute, an unbelievable gem of a museum (it's free, too!) with archaeological artifacts from the Ancient Middle East (a 5,000-year-old mummy is a favorite with tourists) is right across the street from the Seminary Co-op. As the University of Chicago is one of the world's leading institutions conducting archaeological research, this museum is constantly showing new artifacts and sharing new insights into ancient civilizations.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Robie House is one block east of the Seminary Co-op, at the corner of 58th Street and Woodlawn. At the very least, walk by. This corner also affords you a great view of Rockefeller Chapel, where the University of Chicago commencements are held.

Check this Hyde Park map; it shows all the bookstores and local landmarks. As you can see, it's all rather close together, in big city terms at least.

Should you get hungry, the Medici, 1327 E. 57th Street, one block east from 57th Street Books, is a great local hang-out (Their chocolate croissants are my family's favorite and to be had at the adjacent bakery; however, they tend to run out by late morning.). While the Medici has a distinct student café feel (the wooden tables are carved with signatures and love notes), families will brunch here on weekends, and friends of all generations meet here.

With the current general demise of bookstores (see my note yesterday on losing the local Borders), Hyde Park is still blessed with four high-quality independents, all within a few blocks. They're not hard to find, but beware, you can get lost in them.


  1. I love these bookstores. I have thought, at times, about moving to Hyde Park if only for the bookstores - hee. Are you going to AWP?

  2. and if you want to venture over to Wicker Park, try Quimby's (1854 West North Avenue) and Myopic (1564 North Milwaukee Avenue), walking distance from the Damen Blue Line el stop.

  3. Just south of you in Beverly, we lost two bookstores--the Borders a block from my house and a small used bookstore run by this wonderful old woman who went to Radcliffe. She'd fall asleep at her "register" (a cigar box) about half the time I was in there. She passed away, unfortunately.

    I go to Hyde Park sometimes for the bookstores now. Or the North Side. I have to go to the North Side every Saturday morning for my son's therapy, and before going, I was like, Cool, I'll get to hit some bookstores! His appointment gets over at ten am....but the bookstores do not open until noon. Man, was I disappointed. Anyway, I think used bookstores should be tax free from now on--they protect endangered animals, and they ought to protect used bookstores.

  4. When I lived in Chicago, Kroch's and Brentano's was THE bookstore. I love the small local booskstores. They often have neat names, like The Raven--which specializes in mysteries located in Lawrence, KS and Rainy Day Books in the Kansas City area. One there, also, that is called The Reading Reptile.

  5. I love all bookstores of every shape and size- and I always gravitate to the biography, auto biography, memoir section. I would love the A-Z memoir section at Powell's.

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