Let’s not kid ourselves. Winter around these parts can at times be a long, difficult slog of a season that challenges even the heartiest and most devoted of Chicagoans.
Considering the cold, snow or ice and flannel gray days that sometimes seem to last months on end, it can be helpful to have some escape or ray of sunshine to fully embrace the colder weather and brighten the mood. City Lit Books (2523 N. Kedzie Blvd.) has proven to do just that for Logan Square residents since opening in the fall of 2012. Joining Unchartered Books and Bucket O’ Blood at that time allowed Logan Square to join the Hyde Parks of the world in asserting itself as another true literary destination neighborhood in the city.
A local independent bookstore consistently ranked among Chicago’s best, City Lit offers hand-written staff recommendations on many of its offerings and also serves as something of a browsing place when people are spilling out of the nearby cafes, bars and restaurants in the Square on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Owner Teresa Kirschbraun’s face lights up as we begin to discuss this lovely nook on Kedzie Boulevard, which continues to grow and prosper in the years since it’s opening. Prior to opening City Lit, Kirschbraun worked as a consultant in the healthcare industry. After constant travel in that role took its toll, she decided to leave and really take inventory of what she wanted to do with her life.
“It kind of dawned on me that I’ve always been really passionate about books, and I knew how to manage a business,” Kirschbraun says. She researched for about a year, and came up with a business plan. As a 25-year resident of the neighborhood, Kirschbraun says, “I looked specifically to see if I could do it in Logan Square, and it all kind of fell into place. It seemed like a really good time to start that sort of business here.”
In short, the time, trajectory of the neighborhood and demographics made sense. Kirschbraun cited the neighborhood’s density of artists and writers and its passion for supporting local businesses as factors that made the decision one she felt good about.
Many independent bookstores have been seeing a resurgence in recent years, and somewhat of an unexpected one when one considers the likes of Amazon and the difficulty larger bookstores have experienced in staying afloat. As people’s lives become more digitized, homogenized and impersonal, people still have a need for community and personal connectedness.
The key to City Lit’s success, as well as other independents for that matter, is to key on the people who actively support local small businesses and focus on what’s important to them. Kirschbraun asserts that the strategy of the store is to target some interesting and at times under-the-radar books that the big boys won’t stock.
“For me it’s about figuring out what people want to buy, and what they’re interested in,” she says. “It’s a very smart literary community and so people are looking for things that surprise them when they come in here.” An example of this is a table that focuses on small presses, to which people have responded very positively.
Another key to the store’s success and longevity in the neighborhood is the consistent involvement and engagement of the community. Many author readings take place over any given week, as well as open mics, a monthly poetry and prose reading series and many new book clubs consistently being introduced (such as the recently added OBSCURE LIT book club, which features unsung but influential classics). Kirschbraun also proudly mentions the Storytime events for children that happen every Saturday. “Yesterday I think there were probably 30 or 40 families here. We have music and stories, and the kids learn how to play instruments and it’s just so great to see this community every week,” she says.
While many independent bookstores tend to have a cozy yet somewhat chaotic feel, City Lit feels airy, modern, clean and uncluttered. The store’s inventory contains a wide array of offerings, from fiction, non-fiction, banned books and many others. The dedicated children’s section in the back of the store is rather extensive, and City Lit’s fireplace provides a cozy place to relax, get warm and peruse the next addition to your winter reading collection.
After just a few short years City Lit has already made a significant mark on the literary scene in Logan Square, and for that matter Chicago. Considering the passionate ownership, and those willing to support it, it certainly shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. City Lit can be found on Twitter.
Photo: Elisa Fritz