Bookman’s Alley in Evanston, Illinois
A couple of weeks ago J. saw an article about Bookman’s Alley, a used bookstore that’s been a fixture in downtown Evanston for more than 30 years. Neither of us had heard of it before, but it sounded charming. The owner, an elderly man, has been persuaded by his family to close the store due to his health issues, although so far he’s not shown signs of being in a hurry. I couldn’t go last week thanks to a bad foot, so we went Sunday, April 1, before he changed his mind and we missed out.
First, the “Alley” part of the name is not a cute conceit — while Barnes & Noble overlooks a busy shopping district, Bookman’s Alley is nestled in the middle of a nearby Alley, with only an unpretentious wooden sign at the head of the alley to direct the lost and ignorant.
The building itself is low profile — three quarters of a square with a courtyard for parking open on the alley side. Inside and out, it’s seen better days, but to me it represents a respite from the unrelenting suburban consistency and blandness of big box stores like Barnes & Noble. It has character. It’s unique.
Like most bookstores, Bookman’s Alley is organized by subject, with worn seating scattered throughout many of the cozy, compartmentalized sections. i even found a tiny room in the back partitioned from the rest and stocked with oversized books.
Displayed among the books and hanging from above was a variety of bric-a-brac, ranging from a stuffed toy frog and other creatures to this beautiful printing press. Just checking out the décor would take hours. Asthmatics: You can’t escape the unmistakeable scent of used books.
Lately when visiting used bookstores I’ve been drawn to the poetry sections. I need more books like a hoarder needs newspapers. At Bookman’s Alley, I picked up The Collected Poems 1929–1936 of C. Day Lewis and Seventeenth Century Lyrics from the Original Texts chosen (no comma) edited and arranged by Norman Ault. You won’t find these treasures at Barnes & Noble, or possibly anywhere else, at least not together. I wouldn’t have known they existed. The trick now is to find the time and opportunity to enjoy them.
While I was waiting to check out, a young couple introduced themselves to the proprietor, who admitted he didn’t recall them. The man finally asked if he remembered their parents, whom he named. The old man lit up with recognition. Yes, of course he knew them. It sounded like this young couple had been united in matrimony at Bookman’s Alley a few years before — what a marvelous idea!
After leaving the books and the lovers, we ate at Blind Faith Café followed by a trip to Cold Stone Creamery for cake dough ice cream. Not a bad way to spend or end a Sunday or a weekend.
It is sad that this sort of bookstore is disappearing. We had one in Wilmington, Daughtry’s, which he sold when his health became an issue (in his 80’s). The person who bought it was not able to make it go, unfortunately so another one is lost.
He had books on the floor, stashed in closets, etc. but if you asked and he had it, he knew about where it was. I got some treasures there which I still cherish. I miss the place a lot.
Thanks, Malette. There are a few more photos here: https://picasaweb.google.com/116270764387330615072/BookmanSAlley412012?authuser=0&feat=directlink
When Borders opened in Hyde Park, which has several cooperative bookstores and a couple of great used bookstores, a reporter asked a student why she would prefer a chain like Borders. She was more comfortable there — it’s what she was used to. I thought that in itself was sad — when I came to college here, it wasn’t so I could feel like I was at home in Hamburg, New York — it was so I could experience new things like one-of-a-kind used bookstores with Persian cats named Lady Jane in the window.