Lawrence: The Book Cellar in Lincoln Square

Lawrence Stop LogoBy Diana Crisan and Maureen Penland
The Red Line Project

Posted: Monday, June 11, 2012

In the heart of Lincoln Square lies a source of hard cover and paperback adventures --  romantic ones, thrillers, mystery, sci-fi, travel, fiction and more.

All of which can be enjoyed on a red love seat, while sipping a glass of wine or eating a gluten-free vanilla cupcake. But it's not your average Barnes and Noble -- those don't serve liquor -- but an independent bookstore called The Book Cellar.

The Book Cellar,  4736-38 N. Lincoln Ave., is surrounded by culturally diverse specialty restaurants and vintage boutiques. In a neighborhood that was once referred to as German Town, the shop’s location strategically chosen by owner Suzy Takacs.

Takacs, who was  a nurse for 16 years and worked in women's health care, opened the place in 2004 because of the inspiration of a classic book lovers’ film, “You’ve Got Mail.”

“We [friends] were all in the basement watching ‘You’ve Got Mail’ and I said to my husband, I should get out of the rat race and work in a book store,” said Takacs. “He said, you should open your own bookstore and it got me thinking. Of course, in that movie, she’s closed down because of a big box store, so I should have paid attention to what I was watching,” she said with a chuckle.

With all the competition and the transfer to e-books, it’s no surprise that Takacs would be somewhat worried about her business. With less than two dozen independent bookstores left in Chicago and about 50 in the state of Illinois, the book retailing industry is no longer thriving as it once was.

“The thing I’m mostly worried about is Amazon,” said Takacs. “That is my main concern. They want bookstore customers because bookstore customers are loyal readers. Why did I open a bookstore in this day and age? I didn’t. Seven years ago there were no e-books when I opened,” she said.

According to the most recent federal statistics, More than 1,000 bookstores closed from 2000 through 2007, leaving about 10,600 nationwide. In an article by USA Today, Albert Greco, a Fordham University marketing professor who studies book retailing, reports that online bookseller Amazon has 22.6 percent of the book market share, while independents sellers make up only 6 percent.

Even with locations in the thousands, independent bookstores are still struggling to stay afloat in a less-paper friendly age.

“Big box stores like Barnes and Noble and Borders were purposefully plunking down stores near independent stores to make them close…but, what you do is just learn how to roll. We do sell eBooks if you go to our website. You can support your independent book store and still buy e-books,” she said.

A study done by the Pew Research Center reports that in a December 2011 survey, 72 percent of American adults said they had read a printed book and 11 percent listened to an audiobook in the previous year, compared with the 17 percent of adults who had read an e-book. This means that although e-books are on the rise, printed books still dominate the world of book readers.

This goes to show that there will always be people who love the feel of textbooks in their hands and those who value the texture and smell of a good old paper back book will appreciate a store like The Book Cellar.

Takacs believes that her shop is a place where memories are made and families grow up. In fact, she has a returning customer, whose children she was able to watch grow. According to Takacs, they now have a third one on the way. The probability of a Barnes and Noble manager knowing this information about his customers is slim to none.

It’s because of reasons like this that consumers become regulars. The atmosphere is one reason, while the events and book clubs serve as another source of entertainment. The Book Cellar host’s author readings, signings, book launches, and even essay fiestas on an almost daily basis. It also happens to be the only bookstore in all of Chicago that has a liquor license.

“At some point in the day, people are done with coffee and it’s time to move on to something else,” said Takacs. “Also, if you host a lot of book groups and a lot of author events, which we do, people usually like to have a glass of wine or beer when they’re out at an event. It’s the perfect combination,” she said.

As far as future plans for the store are concerned, Takacs, like all other independent bookstore owners hopes to just keep going.

“My main goal is just to have good enough customer service and a fun enough experience and a diverse enough bunch of events that we can sustain our business,” Takacs said.

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