Open Books is expanding into Logan Square, selling used books to give back

Cookbooks, rare books and the odd bit of fiction filled customers’ arms during the first week at Open Books’ new Logan Square location.

A nonprofit organization dedicated to children’s literacy, Open Books operates three stores and an online store to fund free books for children and classrooms across the city.

The storefront opened at 2068 Milwaukee Ave. On January 18th. Logan Square residents were enthusiastic customers, bringing in tens of thousands of dollars in the first week, according to Eric Johnson, CEO of Open Books.

“I told my staff that the response we got within our first week was something I would expect a few weeks later,” Johnson said.

With expansion, Open Books has become the largest used bookstore chain in the city. The nonprofit maintains stores in the West Loop and Pilsen, as well as a holiday pop-up shop in Ukrainian Village.

Johnson said Logan Square is already home to many longtime book donors.

“People are simply thrilled that we are in the neighborhood,” he said. “These are friends both new and old.”

With Logan Square up and running, Open Books now holds about 70,000 books. Most are donated, but employees sometimes buy books in excess to ensure diverse offerings in stores, Johnson said.

The organization often purchases children’s books that feature Black and Latino characters or are written by Black and Latino authors.

“When we give away free books to children and their families, those books need to be able to speak to those children and families,” Johnson said.

Open Books funds youth literacy programs with the store’s profits. Johnson said the impact of the books bought in Logan Square is being felt in Austin, Garfield Park, and the schools on the South Side.

“We usually aim to place our programs in neighborhoods that have been historically disadvantaged and marginalized,” he said. “Through poverty and, most importantly, a general lack of resources and access to resources.”

About 200 children across Chicago attend after-school programs hosted by Open Books. The organization also partners with Dolly Parton’s Fantasy Library Sending a free book to children every month from birth to five years old.

In the store, books sell for between $1 and $10, with a limited selection of rare books for $25 to $100.

Before moving into the 4,000-square-foot storefront, the carpenters installed a bathroom, back staircase, 130 bookcases, and reception desks. Local artist Nick “Sick” Fisher painted a mural on the front of the building.

Johnson said renovation costs came in the “higher five figures, lower six figures”.

Open Books located at 2068 North Milwaukee in the Logan Square neighborhood, Thursday, January 26, 2023.

Carpenters installed nearly 130 bookcases in the 4,000-square-foot Open Books store ahead of opening day on Jan. 18.

Tyler Basquiak Lariviere/Sun Times

Open Books staff and volunteers have hosted poetry contests, book fairs, and readings in the West Loop and Pilsen. Johnson said similar events will be held at the Logan Square store.

Johnson and the Logan Square Chamber of Commerce also hope the storefront will increase foot traffic to Milwaukee Street. Johnson said many storefronts near Open Books are empty.

“Independent bookstores are the lifeblood of the community,” Ald. Daniel Spata (I) said in a statement. “Milwaukee Street in Logan Square has been longing for a space like Open Books for a while.”

Prior to opening day, Open Books hosted pop-up bookstores outside of Logan Square businesses including Revolution Brewing, Comfort Station, Middle Brow, and Damn Fine Coffee.

As the library continues to endear itself to Logan Square, Johnson plans to move some of the donation boxes elsewhere, expanding Open Books’ reach.

“We couldn’t be happier with the choice we made,” Johnson said. “And we just expect that this particular bar that we’ve set ourselves in is going to continue to thrive.”

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