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A Ranking of Chicago’s Used Bookstores

Ashley Holstrom

Staff Writer

Ashley Holstrom helps make books at Sourcebooks. She lives near Chicago with her cat named after Hemingway and her bookshelves organized by color. Newsletter: Crooked Reads. Twitter: @alholstrom.

Autumn is the best time for used bookstore shopping in the city, am I right or am I right? No bulky jackets, no runny noses from the cold outside, no fear of frostbite when you carry out a stack of books that doesn’t fit in your tote.

Once I discovered the glory of beautiful used bookstores, I never (okay, rarely) buy new books.

Here are some of my favorites in Chicago, in order of awesomeness.

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My kind of place.

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Myopic Books (1564 N Milwaukee Ave.)

No used bookstore will ever match Myopic. The store is huge and the floor-to-ceiling shelves leave room for just one person to walk through the aisles. The middle floors feel rickety (they’re not!), but really, what better way to go than surrounded by books? I have spent far too many hours wandering and far too many dollars on beautiful books here.

Bonus fun fact: The guy who built Myopic now has a store in Charleston, Illinois, (take I-57 south for about three hours and you’re there; home of Eastern Illinois University, what up what up!) called Bob’s Bookstore and it looks just like Myopic (the shelves of unfinished wood gave it away) and when I went there, I died. He welcomed my friend and me to the store and chatted while he ate Lucky Charms and we browsed. It was delightful. And charming.

My favorite find: Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Open Books (651 W. Lake St.)
Open Books donates to literacy programs in Chicago, so it’s a big winner in many a Chicagoan’s heart. It is so cozy and so cute inside — hello! the shelves are painted rainbow. It’s basically all I ever need in a used bookstore. Also, it was the first used bookstore I stepped foot in. It has a very special place in my heart.

My favorite find: Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms.

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I have found another slice of Heaven.

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Bookman’s Corner (2959 N Clark St.)
There was a time in my life when I was in this area fairly regularly, and each time, I begged my friends to go into this haphazard-looking bookstore on a beautiful corner. They never wanted to. For my birthday, my best friend took me there, and it was magical. The shelves are chaotic, sorted by genre, and yet the man who owns the store knows every single title he has. He gives wild directions to customers: I heard him say something along the lines of, “German mystery? In the back, turn left at Clark. It’s dark over there; do you want a flashlight?”

That’s the kind of place this is. Also, the sign on the window says Books: Rare, Medium, Well-Done. So there’s that.

My favorite find: Francesca Gould’s Why Fish Fart and Other Useless Or Gross Information About the World.

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Hello, my precious.

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Bookworks (3444 N Clark St.)
The woman who owns this place is delightful. She said that she knows some people like chaotic used bookstores, but that’s just not how she rolls. Everything is sorted by genre and author last name, neatly lined up on shelves. On the endcaps are smaller selections, like beatnicks. They also have a gorgeous collection of leatherbound and first editions and signed books and oh me, oh my.

Hurry there, though. A few months ago, the store announced they are closing. My heart is broken.

My favorite find: Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be?

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Neat. #bookstagram #bookstore

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Bookleggers (2907 N Broadway St.)
This here is a classic used bookstore. Tall shelves, skinny aisles, and funky signs and artwork. Quiet classical music plays from the front of the store. The children’s section is gorgeous. In the back, there’s a corner of classic mass market paperbacks.

My favorite find: Eudora Welty’s The Optimist’s Daughter.

I suppose it’s important to note that there is an obscene amount of used bookstores in the city. These are my favorites of the ones I’ve visited. And if used bookstores aren’t your thing, we have a guide to some cozy independent bookstores in the Windy City, too.

Happy used bookstore hopping!