Women & Children First starts fresh chapter with new owners

  • Pin It
Women & Children First

Alpana Singh gives a reading at Women & Children First in 2006. "Amazon is probably not going to bring your favorite author to the neighborhood to read you books and shake your hand, but we do that as much as three times a week," says Lynn Mooney, new co-owner of the Andersonville bookstore. (Alex Garcia, Chicago Tribune)

Women & Children First bookstore enthusiasts, of whom there are legions, let out a collective cheer last week when the outgoing owners announced they were handing the reins to Sarah Hollenbeck and Lynn Mooney, current employees and friends to the Andersonville store's loyal customers.

Warmly embraced by Chicago's literati as both writers and book sellers, the duo is viewed as a perfect fit for the 33-year-old neighborhood gem at 5233 North Clark St., known for its author events, lovingly selected books for children and adults and reliably good selection of lesbian and gay fiction and nonfiction.

Alongside the cheering, of course, is an audible sigh of relief. Someone willing to take over a bricks-and-mortar bookstore? In 2014? Phew.

"I don't think anybody buys a business or launches a business without some sleepless nights," says Mooney, 52. "But we are confident, partly because people feel so connected and invested in this store, and partly because we do have some very specific ideas, a physical renovation being one of them. The store is due for a little bit of a facelift that will represent the kind of energy and new enthusiasm we bring."

The planned renovation, Hollenbeck says, aims to fix the current set-up, which requires the staff to wheel shelves of books out of the way every time the store hosts an event.

"The renovation will create a dedicated event space that can also function as a community space when we're not having formal author readings," Hollenbeck says. "We hope to have a diverse range of events, including support groups for young parents on a range of issues, such as parents of kids who are struggling with gender identity, workshops on financial planning and tax preparation for newly married couples both straight and gay, and something we're really excited about — birthday parties for children 3 to 7 based around a storybook series."

Prior to working at Women & Children First, Hollenbeck, 30, worked a 9-to-5 gig at Independent Publishers Group and then raced to a nearby Barnes & Noble to work from 6 to 11 p.m. "I've always tried to fit a bookstore into my work life," she says. "That's always been my love."

So she's no stranger to the industry's ebbs and flows. But neither is she scared off by them.

"I do think we're in a little bit of an indie renaissance across America, where people who have the means are making conscious choices about where they spend their money," she says. "More and more people are choosing local and independent."

Particularly, Mooney says, when you factor in the human element that her predecessors, previous owners Linda Bubon and Ann Christophersen, set in motion at their little corner of Clark Street.

"Amazon is probably not going to bring your favorite author to the neighborhood to read you books and shake your hand," Mooney says. "But we do that as much as three times a week."

I asked each of them what they're reading right now.

"I'm reading the new Francine Prose, 'Lovers at the Chameleon Club,'" Mooney says. "I've always been a huge reader of literary fiction and her writing is gorgeous — it just evokes this time and place so beautifully. The other book is 'Down There on a Visit,' by Christopher Isherwood, which is one of those books you can't really put a finger on — is it a novel or a collection of novellas? It's really slippery, in an interesting way."

From Hollenbeck: "I'm reading 'Americanah,' which I didn't intend to read, but I picked it up and read the first chapter and I think she's a fantastic feminist and an incredibly beautiful writer." (The book is written by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.)

"I also love Chicago author Megan Stielstra," Hollenbeck adds. " 'Once I Was Cool' I would highly recommend to anyone who has lived in Chicago, bought real estate in Chicago, had a baby or fallen in love."

As someone who's done all four, I couldn't agree more.


Twitter @heidistevens13

  • Pin It

Search our recipe database:

Search Recipes  

Food Trends, Tips & Recipes

Season your turkey with Cuban flavors

Season your turkey with Cuban flavors

Give thanks for a turkey seasoned with memories.

Dressed in black

Halloween fare dressed in black

Set an elegant tone come Oct. 31 for a grown-up Halloween dinner with noir-hued dishes.

EATINGWELL: Healthy caramel apple needn't be short on taste

Healthy caramel apple that's not short on taste

This healthy caramel apple recipe has just enough caramel to give a nice hit of salty-sweet flavor in each bite for a tasty dessert.

Rich pumpkin tart without using dairy

Rich pumpkin tart without using dairy

A cheesecake-like pumpkin tart made vegan with tofu is flavorful and rich.