651 W. Lake St.
Chicago, IL 60661
Ask avid readers about the value of reading, and you may get varied answers, but I guarantee they will have no trouble rattling off a few advantages: reading reduces stress; reading adds to your knowledge base; reading broadens understanding of the world; reading is a way to relax and escape. Ask an educator, especially an English teacher or a librarian, and you will likely get even more compelling answers: reading improves memory; reading boosts vocabulary; reading improves focus and concentration; reading improves writing. And did you know that reading can reduce your rate of cognitive decline? You probably won't find it surprising to also learn that books in the home have been linked to academic achievement. I think most of us can agree that literacy is not simply important; it is transformative.
There is a bookstore in Chicago that is taking book selling to a whole new level—helping to improve literacy in an innovative and impressive way. The third stop on my Chicago adventure, Open Books, is built on a remarkable concept, the non-profit bookstore.
|Gotta love these stairs|
My husband Jim and I had just enjoyed a stop in Chicago's Printers Row at Sandmeyer's Books followed by a quick tour through the Harold Washington Library. From there it was a short cab ride to the West Loop and Open Books, a store I new would impress me before I even entered the building. A banner hangs above the entrance proclaiming, “Buy books here to support literacy in Chicago.” And a large sign in the window declares that this place is “transforming lives through reading, writing, and the welcoming power of used books.”
The concept of a store that uses proceeds from donated books to support literacy is impressive in its own right, but the store itself is, well, just plain cool. I was oohing and aahing from the minute I stepped through the door. Half a story above street level, the store is accessed by a short staircase. But this is no ho-hum staircase. Each riser in the seven total steps has been decorated to look like the spine of a book. At the top of the stairs is a large landing area embellished with a bright, whimsical mural, beneath which the store name is displayed in large backlit stacked blocks that slowly change color.
|Open Books staff member, Alice Corcoran|
The charm continues in the main part of the store, a warehouse style space that is nonetheless cosy and inviting. Colorful t-shirts printed with the Open Books logo hang in clothes line fashion against an exposed brick wall above a comfy leather couch. Behind a rustic main desk adorned with book spines of wood, friendly staff member, Alice Corcoran, greeted us and provided some details about the store.
This Open Books store is one of two in the Chicago area, both offering a large selection of donated books with profits used to fund literacy programs and grants to classrooms and teachers. Judging by the size of the store, donations must be abundant. Long aisles of brightly colored shelves are overflowing with books, and in the time I was talking with Alice, three people came in with boxes to donate.
A doorway decorated with undersea art beckons younger readers into the large children's area and the hidden treasures within. Nearby is a comfortable reading area where leather furniture surrounds a coffee table that looks like a stack of oversized books. And with walls completely covered in a collage of pictures and quotes, even the bathrooms are fun.
In addition to book grants, the Open Books organization provides a variety of literacy activities and experiences including enrichment programs, reading buddies, and writing workshops. You can even shop Open Books online.
I am so glad I had the opportunity to visit this fantastic bookstore with a social conscience. I love buying books, and when my purchase is helping to make a difference, so much the better.