How is the bookstore business? Let this boss tell you

If you meet a more hilarious book lover than Augie Aleksy, let me know.

This person is full of the written word and an obvious affection for putting words on paper (or computer screen). What makes his affection so unusual is that he has long been at the business end of the literary world.

“People think I sit and read,” he says with his characteristic laugh. “I’m so busy with business that I usually read three books at a time, juggling them, and try to find a quiet booth at Louie’s Diner when I can escape for lunch.”

For 30-some years he has owned and operated the charming bookstore Centuries and Sleuths, first in Oak Park and since 2000 at 7419 Madison St. in Forest Park.

He told me this a while back: “If you’re looking for a book recommendation for yourself or as a gift, it’s best to talk to people; You get to see different books with words, pictures, photos, maps; You don’t have to buy the book to look it up and see what you want. A store environment can foster your love of books and provide a setting that encourages intellectual discussion of both fiction and nonfiction; And I’ve made friendships and even seen a romance that started in a discussion group turn into a marriage. “

I was just worried about him and everyone else here who are in the business of selling books the old fashioned way. Will the pandemic reduce in-store traffic so much that it leads to closings?

That hasn’t happened and I’m happy to report… Oh, let me tell you first: “I’ve actually been very lucky during the pandemic, 2021 being one of my best, most successful years. People buying gift certificates to give to friends and family It was a very steady stream. There was an appetite to read.”

Books, sort of existing between covers, have been on my mind lately. It’s because I stood in pleasant surprise a few weeks ago watching people walk home with bags of groceries they bought at the Newbery Book Fair.

“Three dollars for a copy of (Mike Royko’s) ‘Boss,'” said Thomas Blackburn, who drove down from Wisconsin, pulling the book out of his bag. “Three dollars!”

We’ve all heard dire predictions for bookstores over the years, and seen big chains like Borders close for keeps. But independent bookstores thrive in this area, with their owners being creative and flexible. And they can be optimistic. Earlier this year Forbes magazine reported that “US publishers will sell 825.7 million print books in 2021, up 8.9% from the previous year.”

Arlene Linness, who has owned Read Between the Lines Bookstore in Woodstock since 2005, got to the heart of it long ago, telling me, “Bookstores support the local economy because many booksellers live where they work and use local services. The more visits and purchases happen, the more likely booksellers will get to know them and their preferences and give recommendations and a heads-up about new releases that suit their tastes. Browsing in a bookstore leads to discovery because while shopping, you may see something that appeals to you. is visually interesting, or the perfect gift for someone special. It’s a place to attend events, especially for kids, and most of them free, and a place to be introduced to a favorite author or a new one.”

Alexey agrees, saying, “The store becomes like a community center, not only for Forest Park but for writers. Here we have conversations, not lectures. I know many writers who are decent people, always visiting their readers and supporting each other. are curious

That also gets to the heart of it: bookstores can foster community. Think about taverns. Yes, it would be easier and much cheaper to drink at home, but what do you have to lose from the guy or even the woman on the next stool about the weather? It is the same with movies, theater and sporting events. All of that has to do, I firmly believe, with our inherent need for human contact, especially in an increasingly frozen and recently closed world.

There is a certain magic that books can provide. As Jerry Seinfeld once aptly said, “The bookstore is the only piece of evidence we have that people are still thinking.”

You can meet thousands of these thinkers and many booksellers at the upcoming Printer’s Row Lite Fest, which takes place on Dearborn Street just south of Ida B. Wells Drive.

I’ve had many, many adventures and good times there over the years browsing the many, many stalls, buying books and interviewing authors such as Jonathan Egge, Studs Terkel, Dan Rather, Karen Abbott, Pete Hamill… it’s a long list.

I know several authors who will be there this year. I have read many of their books and will definitely read more. Writers will write.

Although I prefer to read ink on paper, I have no gripes with those who, for various reasons, prefer their books in electronic fashion. Readers should read.

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