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Read It & Eat
Photograph: Martha Williams Read It & Eat

Best bookstores in Chicago

Shop the stacks for new and used books, from novels to nonfiction, at these top bookstores in Chicago

By Jourdan Fairchild and Jess Keys

Let's face it. Online shopping can't buy you the feeling of skimming a great new or used paperback in a cozy nook. The best bookstores in Chicago even offer up knowledgeable staffers (not algorithms) to recommend their favorite novels. Some of our most beloved bookshops also offer coffee, wine or beer—and how can you say no to that? So the next time you're on the hunt for a page-turner, browse the stacks inside these wonderful, well-read bookstores. 

Bookstores in Chicago

1. Myopic Bookstore

Shopping Bookstores Wicker Park

This legendary used bookstore—one of Chicago's oldest and largest—stocks three floors' worth of books from floor to ceiling. Also, local poet Larry Sawyer has booked one of the best free poetry series in the Midwest here for years, and in Myopic’s top-floor space, the readings are even sunnier.

2. Roscoe Books

Shopping Bookstores North Center

Avid book lover and former media sales mogul Erika VanDam had always dreamed of opening a bookstore. Her dream came to life when she recently 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 is what you'll want to write home about. Thirty percent of its inventory is dedicated to children's books. Stop by for Sunday Stories & Puppet Making, book signings and book clubs like "Book Lover's Throwdown" and "Middle Grade Bookclub," for young readers ages 8-12. There's truly something for everyone here.


3. The Book Cellar

Shopping Bookstores Lincoln Square

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. Catch young area writers here the third Thursday of every month at Local Author Night.

4. Unabridged Bookstore

Shopping Bookstores Lake View

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.


5. Open Books

Shopping Bookstores West Loop

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 invites customers to sit and stay awhile, offering plenty of snug reading nooks, complete with comfy seating as well as a dedicated children's section. Go ahead, buy a handful. All proceeds go to literacy programs in the city.

6. Uncharted Books

Shopping Bookstores Logan Square

This laid-back Logan Square bookshop is chock full of used books, from newly released literature to nonfiction favorites. Give yourself ample time to dig, then rest your feet by taking a seat at the table and chairs. Shop owner Tanner McSwain hosts occassional author events, and Ramona, the shop dog, is an added bonus.


7. Read It & Eat

Shopping Bookstores Lincoln Park

This culinary bookstore came about after Esther S. Dairiam, a former management consultant, visited Paris and went on a food tour, which included Librairie Gourmande, a culinary bookstore. Filling a void in Chicago, Read It & Eat is half bookstore, with shelves lined with cookbooks, food memoirs, food history books and reference materials, and half kitchen space, where chefs come in for demos and events.

8. Women and Children First

Shopping Bookstores Andersonville

Don’t be fooled by the store’s name. While the Andersonville shop has a definite feminist slant, any and all can find something here. The store stocks more than 30,000 books, and it's an active location for author readings and community events. It's also the endearing inspiration for Portlandia's "Women and Women First" bookstore sketch.


9. City Lit Books

Shopping Bookstores Logan Square

Teresa Kirschbraun has lived in Logan Square for more than 25 years and felt it always needed a bookstore so she decided to open one. The indie bookshop sells new books and also features an extensive children’s section and an area offering literature in Spanish. Look for a roster of events (book clubs, author visits and story times).

10. 57th Street Books

Shopping Bookstores Hyde Park

This Hyde Park landmark is a great place to buy based on the employee selections and to check out some more intellectual fare. Many readings here fall into the academic/nonfiction category, though the shop often features authors who have written about local history.

Sandmeyer's Bookstore
Photograph: Harrison Ciancuillo

11. Sandmeyer's Bookstore

Shopping Bookstores Printers Row

Located in the South Loop, this family-owned and -operated book shop has been in business since 1982. Step into the brick building and you'll find shelves filled with new releases, travel guides and books to keep you occupied on your train ride home.

12. Quimby's

Shopping Bookstores Wicker Park

You’ve probably heard of Quimby’s as the place to buy small-press books, zines and comics, but it’s also the place to catch their writers. McSweeney’s writers often stop in, as do indie darlings such as Kelly Link, Michelle Tea and the revolving cast of the Perpetual Motion Roadshow.


13. Powell's Bookstore

Shopping Little Italy, UIC

The University Village outpost of this local bookstore carries the textbooks that students are looking for as well as the novels and bestsellers that everyday readers crave.

Photograph: Megan E. Doherty

14. Seminary Co-op Bookstore

Shopping Bookstores Hyde Park

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.

After-Words Books
Courtesy After-Words Books

15. After-Words Books

Shopping Bookstores River North

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—fiction, poetry, literature, photography, history, cookbooks and plenty more. It also has rental space available for parties, lectures, and readings. Plus, the store is equipped to sell books off-site at book groups and other events. Cash book buying is also available by appointment.   


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