Music up (find this on Spotify).
I love fall, and yet this is the saddest fall I’ve ever experienced. The confluence of events, with COVID-19 at the top of the list, has become unbearable in a day-to-day, moment-to-moment way. We are challenged. Challenged to maintain hope, inspiration and joy. To keep our dreams alive and our relationships flourishing. To keep our minds stimulated and our imaginations flowing.
City Lit Books (2523 N. Kedzie Blvd.) brought all of this and more to our neighborhood for over 8 years, since the store’s opening in August 2012: joy, fun, inspiration, lust for learning, growing and communing with our neighbors, making new friends and hanging out with family, hanging out with books, with writers, with the power of the word made manifest. In our very own neighborhood! A watering hole for the mind.
But with falling revenue during the pandemic, City Lit is closing for good Dec. 1. Curbside pickup orders end Thursday, Oct. 15, and the store will maintain regular curbside-pickup hours (11 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday) through Oct. 23.
I spoke with store owner Teresa Kirschbraun sitting on a bench by the Logan Square monument on one of the most glorious of fall days. Our conversation was laced with sadness, the sadness of a dream realized and dashed by events out of our control.
Kirschbraun earned an undergrad degree in occupational therapy and went on to pursue a master’s degree in health care administration. With her gifts for organization and leadership, she worked in hospital administration and as a health care consultant. But traveling four days a week for work, she realized that, in the back of her mind, her dream to own a bookstore was where her joy lived. She left her job in 2005 and took some time to think. She knew she loved books and reading, and she knew she could rely on her expertise in managing a business. Opening her own bookstore was the conclusion.
The dream of City Lit Books began in 2005, but it took much studying, learning and planning to make that dream come true. That included taking a course on opening an independent bookstore, putting together a detailed business plan, finding the location and negotiating the lease. Finally, after all that planning and exploration, City Lit was ready to open, in 2012.
Kirschbraun and I talked at length about how her aim, from the start, was to do something that she loved and that brought her and others joy. Of course, she was pragmatic and acknowledged that making a living is important, but her first commitment was to do something that not only inspired her but also provided inspiration and creative opportunities for others.
She made it clear to me that this was more important to her than making a lot of money. And yes, during its years of operation, City Lit broke even. It was not a gigantic basket of monetary riches. But it was a basket of intellectual, community and social riches. To Kirschbraun, this was the fulfillment of a promise she made to herself. That she was able to make her aspiration a reality is admirable.
Kirschbraun’s main goal from the start was to stay open and serve the community with author events, book clubs (and City Lit ended up offering so many of them, exploring new, original and terrific books by authors emerging and established), open mics and what became legendary Saturday story times for kids. Over the years that City Lit has done all that, the shop has also supported local authors with their book releases, hosted fundraisers and book drives for schools, and introduced the community to thousands of books that have stimulated our minds and our conversations.
And those conversations! Twice a week, I walked into City Lit to browse, read, buy, and have great talks with Kirschbraun and the booksellers about things we all loved most: books, writers and the written word. Those chats don’t have a monetary value; they are priceless.
The shutdown of many businesses during the pandemic, and the slowdown in revenue even after shutdowns eased, has been a challenge worldwide. It has also produced a specific kind of crisis for Logan Square, famous as a destination because of the plethora of vibrant, energetic, artisanal businesses up and down the corridor of Milwaukee Avenue, from Logan Square proper all the way to California Avenue and down Diversey, Kimball and Kedzie. People come to this neighborhood because we have created a special kind of village, and City Lit has been an integral and brilliant part of that village.
Kirschbraun spoke of her sadness and her disappointment at seeing a dream come to a close. But she also reassured me that she is energetic and filled with ideas that will come to fruition in some way in the near future.
For now, though, City Lit will close its doors in December.
Operating as a fulfillment center for online orders took away the joy of being a bookstore owner for Kirschbraun, she said. And she was not sure how long that state of affairs would last before it was safe to open up to customers. In addition, that business model was not sustainable monetarily, she said.
“It’s more than money,” she told me. “The joy is not there. The sense of fulfillment is missing.”
I fully understand and sympathize with her. After an eight-year investment of time, energy, momentum and imagination, City Lit will close, return unsold books to publishers and do it in the right way.
Pas au revoir, mais à bientôt.
Not goodbye, but see you soon.
Featured photo: Allison Fine