23 East Illinois Street
Chicago, IL 60611
What's better than experiencing two great Chicago bookstores (Sandmeyers and Open Books) and one fabulous Chicago library? Well, a third great bookstore, of course. After a special weekend with my husband during which he had agreed to accompany me to the aforementioned establishments, I had a day to myself while he attended a work seminar. As luck would have it, a brief Google investigation turned up a potential shop within walking distance of our hotel. It looked like my nice weekend might be followed by a promising solo trip afterwards. So Monday morning I set out into the heart of Chicago to a bookstore appropriately named after-words.
The weather was cool, yet sunny—perfect for a stroll in the city. In short order I arrived, actually almost passed by, a simple red brick building. Fortunately, an eye-catching neon sign over the door announced that I had reached my destination just two blocks west of famed Michigan Avenue.
I entered an airy space where tall columns inscribed with hand-written quotations support an open ceiling of substantial wood joists punctuated with painted duct work and conduit. Old wood floors and exposed brick walls add to the industrial-chic atmosphere.
Behind the desk I found store manager, Angie, who has been with after-words (Yes, lower case letters, she assured me.) for some 13 years. Her knowledge of the store and books was readily apparent, and it wasn't long before I was enjoying a discussion of our favorite books and authors as well as learning about the store, which just weeks before had passed its 20th anniversary.
Once a candy store, built in the late 1800's, after-words now trades in sweets of a different sort—mind candy, so to speak. Selling both new and used titles, the store has a relaxed ambience with small reading nooks sprinkled throughout. At the back of the space is a glass wall separating the books from a large open area available for signings, readings, and lectures. Angie mentioned that this space is also available to rent for private parties. I must say that a party in a bookstore sounds sublime.
But wait; there's more. A neon arrow points to a heavy factory staircase leading to the downstairs portion of the store. As I descended to investigate the lower level, Angie called out, “See you in a few hours!” The upper floor of this store gives no indication of the vastness of the basement level. It would be easy to spend a few hours or an afternoon in this space browsing the over 70,000 volumes for sale.
I did spend a considerable amount of time browsing and found several books I needed to have, including one that Angie had recommended. But I had other items on my agenda and could not consume the entire afternoon. I feel fortunate, however, that I had the time for a visit to after-words. This purveyor of sweets for the book lover's soul provided the perfect dessert to end my Chicago bookstore adventure.