Evanston’s best hidden gem just became a little less hidden.
The independent bookstore Bookends & Beginnings reopened Feb. 15 at 1620 Orrington Ave., after residing for eight and a half years in Bookman’s Alley. Nina Barrett, owner of the treasured local business, began publicizing the store’s relocation efforts in December after a rent increase made the move necessary. The community came together to support the store, contributing more than $110,000 to a GoFundMe.
The new location features two floors and includes an improved event hosting space, a bar and bathrooms. All in all, there’s more space to relax in comfortable chairs and find your next read. With more than 40,000 books, there’s something for everyone of any age. In addition to books, you can find puzzles, stationary, pins, journals and more.
A key fixture in the new location is a beautiful mural, painted by local artists Sam and George Booker that captures the joy books bring and the store’s connection with the community. Bookends & Beginnings’ teal walls, hand-labeled shelves, chandeliers and colorful rugs give the store a cozy, welcoming atmosphere. Wandering the new space, lovers of the original store will recognize some of the features in the new location.
Bookends & Beginnings is the perfect place to spend a quiet afternoon, getting lost in the pages of a new book.
Cleyvis Natera took 15 years to write Neruda on the Park, and you can see why when you read the novel. There many pieces of the book that speak to Natera's life: navigating America with and on behalf of her parents, seeing gentrification slowly creep into the neighborhoods she has loved, the flawed and complex relationships between generations of women within one community. Kate had a chance to sit down with Cleyvis at the recent Brooklyn Book Festival and they talked about how Cleyvis' growth and maturity contributed to the growth and maturity of her novel. We then talk to Book Ends and Beginnings in Evanston, Illinois, a book lovers bookstore in a great college town.
Bookends & Beginnings is also celebrating poetry this month with a spring window display featuring a variety of poetry titles. The bookstore will also bring in a larger inventory of hardcover copies of the Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets Series, which feature selected poems that fit specific themes.
Owner Nina Barrett said the bookstore’s poetry section has always been successful because of the “unusually large” quantity of poetry readers and writers in the Evanston, Chicago and Northwestern communities.
“When some kind of month comes along, we take it moderately seriously,” Barrett said. “We don’t go overboard because I almost feel that it does a disservice to how seriously we take all of these subjects year round.”
Near Northwestern University is Bookends & Beginnings, founded by journalist and nonfiction writer Nina Barrett in 2014. Barrett recently opened a second location, within walking distance from the first, which is helping fill the void left when the neighborhood’s Barnes & Noble closed in May 2020. Bookends & Beginnings carries an impressive array of kids’ books in four dozen languages—thanks to Barrett’s husband’s expertise in international children’s literature—along with many more mainstream offerings for adults. According to the store’s website, patrons consider it “the speakeasy for books.”
BROOKE WILLIAMS: You hand me a book when I’m a young teenage girl, and I’m like, “This isn’t for me.” I’m also a queer woman. And I wasn’t seeing any of that representation at all. I went to college, and suddenly I had access to all of these things. I had Ursula K. Le Guin, I had Octavia Butler. Like these were things that I found when I was in college, and I was like, “Oh, there’s so much more here that I can find.”
AVIVA BECHKY: Brooke told us a lot of science fiction and fantasy takes colonization as a given. Now, she said she’s seeing more works pushing back on that.
BROOKE WILLIAMS: There’s an Ursula K. Le Guin short story called “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.” N. K. Jemisin, who is a fantastic author who I feel is the spiritual successor to LeGuin in a lot of ways, wrote a response story, “The Ones Who Stay and Fight.” And that conversation is sort of what I’m talking about when I talk about the diversification of science fiction and fantasy and being in conversation with the works that came before.
"I want my system to be user-friendly, but only for myself," says Nina Barrett of Bookends & Beginnings in Evanston, Illinois. She separates fiction from non-fiction, then groups her books into various subcategories. "Books on one subject should definitely be kept together and organized topically so you can easily find them when you are in a certain mood."
"Bookshelves are an expression of their owner's personality and experience," she says. "It doesn't need to follow the Library of Congress catalog organization because no outsider is ever going to need to find something in there. Treat yourself as the curator of your own personal literary museum."
Colson Whitehead launches his latest tale this September, Harlem Shuffle. The two-time Pulitzer Prize winner debuts Ray Carney, a protagonist balancing the worlds of a clean domestic life and one of crime. Money is tight for the Harlem hero, an upstanding furniture salesman, who occasionally dips his toes into selling the odd piece of jewelry stolen by his cousin. But when a heist of the “Waldorf of Harlem” goes awry, Ray is drawn into the underbelly of corrupt cops and local gangsters.
What ensues is a saga of living a double life, tinted by the realities of family, race and power in 1960s New York. Deemed a “love letter to Harlem” by its publisher, Penguin Random House, Harlem Shuffle takes on multiple lives, just like its protagonist, marrying comedy and tragedy in a highly anticipated novel.
Consider shopping it at Bookends & Beginnings, a cozy bookshop in the suburbs of Chicago.
"I don’t want to make people feel guilty about how cheap and convenient Amazon is, but to a large extent they don’t understand why it is that way and what kind of damage is done. You do have a choice on how to spend your money. Going into a bookstore and paying $24.99 isn’t just an investment in my bookstore. It’s an investment for your local downtown community. It’s a matter of spending your money in a way that buys you the community you want to live in."
The complaint alleges that Amazon worked with the five biggest publishing houses to acquire clauses that essentially ensure other booksellers cannot compete with the online giant, which typically charges prices lower than those listed on the book flap.
Other booksellers are not allowed to sell new releases earlier, or any books at a cheaper price than Amazon, and publishers “cannot offer lower wholesale prices to competing booksellers” than what Amazon receives, which would encourage competition in the market, according to the complaint.
Mar 29, 2021 Chicago Sun Times: Evanston bookstore owner suing Amazon over alleged price-fixing scheme that makes it impossible for other retailers to compete
“I, along with most independent bookstore owners in America, feel incredibly frustrated because we’ve seen that the playing field is not level,” Barrett told the Sun-Times. “We have to talk to our customers all the time about why we can’t match Amazon’s pricing.”
Amazon didn’t return a message seeking comment.
The suit, which was filed in New York, seeks to include all booksellers that bought books from the Big Five after March 25, 2017. It seeks damages and an injunction on the “anti-competitive” practice.
In a Q&A sent to customers on March 29, Ms. Barrett says she is suing the defendants because of their “unfair business practices.” She says a class action suit is necessary, “because our daily struggle to run a sustainable brick-and-mortar bookstore in the heart of your community is shared by every other independent bookstore in the country, and anywhere else in the world where Amazon does business. We know that individually, there’s really nothing we can do about it. It needs to be a collective action, led by exceptional legal firepower. … To be clear, all we ask is that you be willing to pay the full price printed on a book jacket (which is determined by the publisher, not by us) in order to sustain all the extra value we add to your community by staying in business.”
“We’re still doing what the fictional owner of The Shop Around the Corner was doing so beautifully in that movie 22 years ago,” Barrett said. “Reading stories to kids. Launching local authors’ books. Handing our customers books we know they’ll love, because we know both the books and the customers.”
Hill is further concerned that Amazon, given how it’s gained so much power in the book industry, could become a gatekeeper of literature and have a dangerous amount of control over what books are represented on shelves.
“If you care about reading, you have to care about independent bookstores,” she said. “I don't want a big corporation having so much power over what books I'm exposed to and what I ultimately read. I don't think that's a good thing for a democracy or for society, certainly not for the literary community.”
After six years in Evanston, independent bookstore Bookends & Beginnings announced an expansion to include a retail storefront at 1716 Sherman Ave. in a Sept. 2 news release.
The store’s initial location was in an alley off Sherman Avenue, and a significant portion of Bookends and Beginnings’ merchandise will remain in that facility, located a short walk away from the new storefront. The new location will primarily house bestselling books, new releases and non-book merchandise, store owner Nina Barrett said.
We’re hoping you have some downtime this summer to catch up on reading.
This week on the show we’ll be offering some book recommendations, and who
better to give us their picks than three writers. Later this week we’ll be talking
nonfiction and young adult and children’s books, but today we’re starting with fiction.
Nina Barrett is the author of "The Leopold and Loeb Files" and owner of
Bookends and Beginnings, an independent bookstore in Evanston.
Jun 14, 2019 ShelfAwareness: Happy 5th Birthday, Bookends & Beginnings!
Congratulations to Bookends & Beginnings, Evanston, Ill., which is celebrating its fifth anniversary this weekend.
"It's time to celebrate the joys of Being Small in the Age of Being Ginormous! We'll have special events and revelry to mark the occasion and we hope you'll join us!" the bookstore noted.
Owner Nina Barrett spoke recently with Justin Kaufmann of WGN's The Download on Chicago Business "about her latest book, The Leopold and Loeb Files: An Intimate Look at One of America's Most Infamous Crimes, the early days of the Printers Row Lit Fest, the vibrant community of Chicago booksellers, the health of independent bookstores in Chicago, what an independent bookstore can offer that a big chain cannot, competition with online retailers, how the publishing industry has changed and evolved and her appearance at the Printers Row Lit Fest."
It’s the “The Download on Chicago Business” sponsored by Signature Bank. Tonight, Justin speaks with Nina Barrett, owner of the great Evanston bookstore Bookends & Beginnings. Nina talks about her latest book, “The Leopold and Loeb Files: An Intimate Look at One of America’s Most Infamous Crimes,” the early days of the Printers Row Lit Fest, the vibrant community of Chicago booksellers, the health of independent bookstores in Chicago, what an independent bookstore can offer that a big chain cannot, competition with online retailers, how the publishing industry has changed and evolved and her appearance at the Printers Row Lit Fest this weekend.
Nina Barrett started independent bookstore Bookends and Beginnings in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois, in 2014. Barrett, a journalist and author, was inspired in part by going to independent bookstores as a child, as well as a business savvy about the industry earned while “moonlighting on and off” within the bookstore world. After the closing of Borders and Barnes & Noble’s shift from print books “as the focus of their business model,” Barrett said this, “opened up some room for a renaissance of indie bookstores that still do see a way of creating value in their communities by curating a selection of great books and nurturing a space where authors and readers can come together to talk about them.”
Evanston was chosen as one of Apartment Therapy’s Coolest Suburbs in America 2019. They showcased the burbs nationwide that offer the most when it comes to cultural activities, a sense of community, and simply a good quality of life—and Bookends & Beginnings was at the top of the list as their “Favorite Local Bookstore.”
Bookstore opens new chapter in Evanston: "One of the joys of independent bookstores is that each uniquely reflects the personalities of its owner. Among the mix of new, used and bargain books at Bookends & Beginnings is a cooking section that Nina calls her pride and joy. A two-time James Beard Award-winner for her WBEZ show, "Fear of Frying," Nina has curated a "destination" selection of cookbooks, ranging from Yotam Ottolenghi to small-press neighborhood and regional offerings, such as the Ravinia Festival's "Noteworthy" cookbook...Jeffrey's expertise is on display in the children's section, which is overseen by Glenda, a fiberglass giraffe purchased at auction. The store features an expansive selection of international children's books and Spanish-language books along with chapter books for pre-teen and young adult readers."
Chicagoans of the Year in Literature: Defenders of the Book: "But would there even be a book community in Chicago to talk about without, you know, local booksellers? ...The video store (or what's left of it) is running on fumes, the record store is a haven for aficionados and nostalgia. But these new bookstore owners are making a compelling case for the viability of the bookstore, a future rooted in a not-particularly-virtual understanding of what 'community' means."
Lit 50 2015 Who Really Books in Chicago: "Barrett has crafted a bookstore unique in both its coziness and eclectic mix of products. They offer new and used books, hard-to-find books in twenty-six different languages, and a huge cookbook section. Already an integral part of the Evanston literary community, Barrett collaborated this past May with the first-ever Evanston Literary Festival which included hosting six events in her store. In addition to her career as a bookseller Barrett, is also the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and is putting the finishing touches on her fourth book about the 1924 Leopold and Loeb murders."
When first opening Bookends & Beginnings, Nina and Jeff were interviewed by WBEZ about the resurgence of independent bookstores in the age of Amazon and the decline of big-box booksellers. Nina was also interviewed about the ongoing popularity of cookbooks who are in competition with recipe websites and apps, as well as her selections for the best cookbooks of 2015.
Bookstores can’t die if they keep being born: "The message behind someone opening a bookstore in Evanston is not only that there’s a new bookstore in Evanston, but it’s never too late to chase your dreams."
"The new store has a character all its own, as do its multi-talented owners. The non-intrusive sales counter tucked in to the left of the entry, the colorful quilts and artwork on the walls and vibrant jewelry and stationery also for sale – and of course, the shelves and tables of books – greet one in a happy mix of colors and textures."
"The shop, only in its infancy, already feels like a favorite grandmother’s living room: thick rugs cover creaky wood floors, soft jazz tinkles quietly, light from the windows takes on a magical, dusty quality."
"Open since June 2014, this quaint bookshop offers an eclectic mix of new, [used] and speciality discount books in the former space of Bookman’s Alley. Owner Nina Barrett (an award-winning journalist) seeks out titles that appeal to the community's educated, diverse population, and regularly organizes events, author readings, workshops and more."
"This is the best bookstore. Everyone who walks in agrees after two minutes. New, used, bestsellers; the interesting, the most literary alongside the very readable."
"An independent book store, as good as they come, where it's all about the books and the local community. Enjoyed my first visits and started ordering my books here instead of Amazon."