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!