After the glut of online shopping during quarantine, it's even more clear now that nothing beats an afternoon spent browsing the stacks in your local independent bookstore. Whether you're looking for fresh reading materials, thoughtful gifts, cookbooks or textbooks, the best bookstores in Chicago offer up knowledgeable staffers to recommend the perfect tome for every literary need. Some of our most beloved bookshops also offer coffee, wine or beer—and how can you say no to that? Next time you're on the hunt for a page-turner, browse the stacks inside these well-read and well-loved bookstores in Chicago.
The 19 best bookstores in Chicago
Shop the stacks for new and used books, from novels to nonfiction, at these top bookstores in Chicago
Bookstores in Chicago
From the vibrant murals to the cozy kids' section to the cafe, Danielle Mullen's Wicker Park space is made for browsing, community building and taking your time. Browse the shop's well-curated stacks or check out its regular schedule of events, including a dreamy Book Club Dinner Party, storytime with Time Out Market and a happy hour homage to the old Scholastic book fair. Plus, in addition to the store's literacy-focused sister nonprofit, Paren(t)hesis, Semicolon's #ClearTheShelves program has given away more than $350,000 worth of books to Chicago Public Schools students.
Avid book lover and former media sales mogul Erika VanDam had always dreamed of opening a bookstore. Her dream came to life when she opened her Roscoe Village shop, a haven for all local bookworms. Step into the store and it's easy to sense the passion in the air, with details like handwritten "staff favorite" notes and a large variety of community events. The shop offers books of all genres—fiction, nonfiction, cookbooks, parenting, biographies, memoirs and more—but its children's section, with a dreamy hand-painted mural, is what you'll want to write home about.
When it comes to bookstores, this place defines class. Not only can you browse books while sipping wine, but the staff recommendations are just what you want them to be: varied and idiosyncratic. Attend events ranging from engaging talks with up-and-coming local authors to reading and yoga sessions, or build community with one of the shop's many book clubs, including the Racial Justice Book Club and "Never Too Old," a YA reading club for adults.
Handwritten, personal recommendations from employees line the shelves at the Unabridged Bookstore, offering helpful, heartfelt tips for customers. The Lakeview shop is known for its extensive children's section but also stocks a diverse selection of literary fiction and nonfiction for more advanced readers.
Open Books isn’t your average bookstore. Opened in 2009, the shop is an outgrowth of the Open Books nonprofit, with a new location at the Literacenter. More than 50,000 books—mostly used and donated, with some recent new titles—are housed in rows of wooden shelves painted in bright, cheerful colors. Open Books offers plenty of snug reading nooks for curling up with new finds and a dedicated children's and young adult section. Go ahead, buy a handful. All proceeds go to literacy programs in the city, and a second Pilsen location offers free books for kids and pay-what-you-can books for adults.
This laid-back Andersonville bookshop is chock full of used books, from newly released literature to nonfiction favorites. Give yourself ample time to peruse the shelves, or start your journey with their easy-to-use online rare book catalogue, whose categories range from Adventure and Travel to Conspiracies to Disney. Ramona, the shop dog and goodest girl, is an added bonus.
Chicago's legendary feminist bookstore has been serving Andersonville and beyond since 1979, and while their selections of feminist and queer literature are excellent, you can find current and curated picks across all genres, as well as some fun bundles and subscriptions. An important community and literary hub, WCF supports local schools and groups like Chicago Books to Women in Prison, and a host of both in-person and virtual events, including outdoor storytime in the summer. Get connected with fellow bookworms through a number of book groups, including Kids First, Well Read Black Girl and Classics of Women's Literature.
Months after the store announced its closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Logan Square's beloved indie bookstore reopened in the summer of 2021 under the stewardship of Logan Square resident and former librarian Stephanie Kitchen. Curl up by the fireplace (yes, a fireplace) with a curated staff pick from this "Book Lover's Bookstore," or make a new friend through the shop's eclectic book clubs, like the Brit Lit-loving "Tickety-Boo," the queer "On Earth We're Briefly Gay" or the long-running "Weird & Wonderful," a celebration of sci-fi, fantasy and speculative fiction.
Chicago's first employee-owned and operated independent bookstore as of 2020, Pilsen Community Books invites you in with wall-to-wall shelves of books of all genres. Emphasizing the "community" in their name, the shop offers two subscription book programs, reading clubs, book talks and other events, and a neighborhood youth literacy program called Pilsen Reads. While it's a bookstore ideal for in-person browsing, their website also has wonderfully-curated lists and staff picks to give you that feeling of discovery from home.
Wicker Park's Quimby's Comics is a zinester's paradise, with a vast selection of new DIY and small-press zines and a club celebrating them. Even if you're not into zines, there's something fun for you here amidst the comics, graphic novels, small-press books and other weird, wonderful and thought-provoking art and text.
Founded in 1961 by a group of book lovers, the Seminary Co-op is a community-owned bookstore that specializes in academic titles. For years, the store was based out of the basement of the Chicago Theological Seminary, but in 2012 it moved to its current, above-ground location.
Small but mighty, Verlean Singletary's shop in the Boxville marketplace in Bronzeville is committed to literary growth and youth engagement. Da Book Joint has an excellent youth and children's book selection, centering Black stories and Black authors. Da Book Joint also supports youth literacy efforts through sister org Options for Literacy, and has a book club active on social media.
One of River North's hidden gems, After-Words Books houses two floors (and more than 70,000 titles) of new and used books. The shop features a wide variety of titles, including fiction, poetry, literature, photography, history, cookbooks and plenty more. It also has rental space available for parties, lectures, and readings.
If the idea of wandering through colorful stacks of older books and settling in an old rocking chair to read for a while, this bohemian Rogers Park treasure trove will be your new favorite haunt. Since 1994, the charming shop—which is covered in folk art and other artifacts—has been a local favorite for seekers of rare and used books.
On the far South Side and need some reading material? Check out this well-stocked Beverly-Morgan Park indie bookstore. Bookie's offers new and used titles, and their online interface makes it even easier to shop locally and independent. There are even a few cafe tables out front in the warmer months if you want to take your purchases outside and enjoy them right away.
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