In an article about Chicago bookstores, the state flag of Chicago flies above a shelve of books as a neon "open" sign glows.

Four Chicago Bookstores for Four Personalities

Don’t overlook the thriving bookstore scene in Chicago.
September 16, 2023
8 mins read

Living in downtown Chicago is an experience that cannot be described with a single word, but to say the least, it is dynamic. It can be hard to find a minute of peace – from white noise of the “L” train to the eerie whistling of harsh wind through tiny gaps in the windows. From the paralyzingly cold winters to the drenchingly humid summers, it’s rare to find a climate that allows for moments of pure appreciation for the city. While sometimes overwhelming, Chicago is nonetheless a city full of rich history and artistic passion. Even in the cruelest of Chicago days, there is beauty to be found in the mere details of the architecture and the remnants of historic artistic expression. The surviving bookstores of Chicago stand as examples of this phenomenon. The necessity of physical bookstores dwindles, but the persistence of the certain stores still standing is proof of the community’s appreciation for tangible literature.

For the book lover new to Chicago, you may be pleased to hear that there is a thriving community of bookstores and booksellers in the city, and it won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. 

In efforts to keep the community alive, the organization Chicago Loves Books challenges book lovers to an annual bookstore crawl in honor of Independent Bookstore Day. This past April, the third annual crawl ranged across “more than 40 independent bookstores in the greater Chicago area—from Lake Forest to Beverly, and Naperville to the Loop.”

I discovered this challenge during a visit to the independent bookstore closest to my apartment: Sandmeyer’s Bookstore. I was thrilled to find out that bookstores still had the potential to stir up so much hype through an event like this. 

For anyone like myself who is interested in participating in the book crawl but find themselves limited to transportation via the “L,” here are my favorites. These essential stops for bookstore connoisseurs are all located less than a ten minute walk from Red or Blue Line stations. While all beautiful, they each have unique personalities that are appreciated best by different types of visitors. 


Sandmeyer’s Bookstore: For the old timey-loving reader

The first time I stepped foot into this bookstore, my senses were flooded by the smell of hardwood and sound of the creaky floors I walked on. Stepping in from the harsh Chicago weather, the space feels untouched not only by the weather outside but by time itself. The ambience is createdbrought by nothing more than the noticeable age of the building, untouched by any sort of remodel, only restoration.

 Right off of the Harrison Red Line stop, this store is located in the heart of Printer’s Row in the South Loop, a place oozing with history that is especially relevant to the creation of books themselves. This site was once the epicenter for printing and bookbinding in the midwest as of the late 19th-century. Despite the store’s time capsule-like aesthetic, their selection is constantly up-to-date on new releases and best sellers. They have a wide variety of well-organized genres, offering something for everyone.


Quimby’s Bookstore: For the graphic novel and zine lover

I first found myself in Quimby’s Bookstore on the day of last year’s crawl. In true Chicago fashion, I stumbled in from a flash April shower to the comfort of a roof over my head and the warm embrace of a bookstore. Opposing the concept of a traditional bookstore, Quimby’s embraces an angsty vibe through its obscure decor, dark color scheme and uncensored selection of literature. 

With a far smaller selection of best sellers in favor of a vast collection of local artists’ zines and original graphic novels, its comfortability comes from its authenticity. It is a real home-base for a community of zine readers and creators, as they host a variety of monthly events, including their Zine Club. Off of the Damen Blue Line Stop in Wicker Park, Quimby’s is for anyone in search of an unorthodox read. With some sections restricted to 18+, the store may not be for everyone, but it certainly provides the adventurous visitor with choices of novelty. 


Exile in Bookville: For the music-loving reader

I was taunted by the presence of this bookstore every time I walked down Michigan Avenue, as it’s located on the second floor of the historic Fine Arts Building, at the very Eastern edge of the downtown Loop. From above, the sign in their window advertising books watched me until the day I finally had the opportunity to go in. There are not many stores in the Fine Art Building, and while it was strange to venture up to the second floor, it was a scenic route of architecture and history. 

The store itself contrasts its ominous name, as it is flooded with the light of picture windows framing a grand view of Grant Park across the street. The floor to ceiling shelves create a sense of safety from the books looming above. The selection seems endless, sporting a combination of bestsellers, unique finds and large sections dedicated to the analysis of specific songs, albums and musicians. This store calls to the reader who appreciates all art.


Myopic Books: For the old-souled, inquisitive reader

Making your way back to the Blue Line after visiting Quimby’s, you’ll likely stumble across Myopic Books in Wicker Park. I personally first entered this store with no previous knowledge of its existence but was immediately enthralled upon arrival. This store is for those who like to get lost in bookshelves in the same way a fairytale protagonist gets lost in the woods. Used books cover almost every inch of wall in this three story, historic building. As you continue your way up, you become immersed in a never ending forest of knowledge. Myopic Books keeps a lower profile. In fact, there is a no photos policy within the store. For one who loves Instagram, this may come as an inconvenience, but for those who enjoy mystery, the inability to document the experience makes it all the more thrilling.


Chicago’s bookstores are crucial to the artistic community. These stores are a reminder that the preservation of literature is a lasting effort that continues to thrive. For those who wish to participate in this preservation, Chicago is a rewarding place to explore.

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