Harrison: Printers Row Books Fighting e-Readers for Consumers

John LaPine has owned Printers Row 
Fine and Rare Books for 10 years. (Courtesy photo)

Harrison Stop IconBy Maria Cannata
The Red Line Project

Posted: Monday, March 7, 2011

Asked about how e-readers stack up with real books, John LaPine isn't afraid to give a long-winded answer.

“How do you replicate the smell of paper and ink sitting your lap, sitting in an overstuffed chair and reading under a reading lamp late at night when everyone is asleep or on a cold and raining winter Sunday at about four o’clock? How do you replicate that with an iPad?” asked LaPine, owner of Printers Row Fine and Rare Books in Chicago's South Loop.

The debate on whether to purchase an e-reader has been widely discussed. In a fast-paced society, e-readers fit time and space in for an on-the-go read. But are they replacing the significance, history, and memories of a book?

LaPine has been the owner of Printers Row Fine and Rare Books, one of Chicago's finest antiquarian and rare bookshops, since 2001. The bookstore specializes in 16th through 20th Century British and American literature. These books line the walls and give the feeling of a traditional bookstore, immediately when entering you can feel the history that lies within the store.  This cozy and quiet bookstore is located at the heart of Printers Row in the South Loop.

LaPine began his collection when his aunt gave him a book entitled “The Crystal Cave” by Mary Stuart. The Crystal Cave still sits in a bookshelf in his home among other books he has collected that have had a significant impact in his life.


He said, “When you read a really good book it becomes a part of you, it becomes a part of memory, it becomes a part of the experience and you have that book that you first read the story in.”

“A book is something to fall in love with,” LaPine said, “you can take a book and the whole world around you kind of evaporates and you get to go into the world that the author has presented to you.”

Fifteen-thousand books are available on-site. (Photo by Maria Cannata)

"When you buy a hard cover book you keep it,” he added.

And he has. Printers Row Rare and Fine books has more than 18,000 books in its store, as well as a warehouse with more than 50,000 books.

Borders, the second largest bookstore chain following Barnes & Noble recently filed bankruptcy in January 2011. But smaller locally-owned bookstores such as LaPine’s are not facing similar problems.

Due to their antique quality and niche market Printers Row Rare and Fine books is thriving. LaPine said that because his books have history and you cannot find majority of them on an e-reader, that his bookstore will maintain its business and continue on with the persistent purchases and resale of books.

Printers Row Books Photo by Maria Cannata

This lounge area greets customers 
as they walk in. (Photo by Maria Cannata)

LaPine defends the continued use of the “analog book.” An analog book, as LaPine defines it, is similar to an analog watch: it is not digital. The analog book is one that has a top and bottom edges and text block, among many other things.

 The significance of a printed book is one that many e-reader users take advantage of. For example, one of LaPine’s favorite books, that sits behind him on the shelves of his office, is the 20 volume Oxford Dictionary, which has the etymology and first usage of every single of word in the English language. Although an e-reader is the essence of convenience it cannot hold history.

Among the thousands of books that line the shelves of the bookstore one of the most valuable books LaPine has is “Four Stories and Six Poems” by Ernest Hemingway.

Listen to a sound clip of LaPine talking about "Four Stories and Six Poems:"

John LaPine sound bite by Maria Cannata

“How do you replicate walking into a shop like this and looking at the world’s literature at your fingertips; where you can pick them up and read them? How do you do that on an iPad,” said LaPine.


Printers Row Books is located at 715
S. Dearborn Pkwy. in the South Loop. (Courtesy Photo)

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