Bookends & Beginnings bids farewell to longtime Bookman’s Alley location


Maia Pandey/Daily Senior Staffer

Bookends & Beginnings will pack up for 1620 Orrington Ave. on Saturday after its new landlord more than doubled rent prices over the summer.

Maia Pandey, Senior Staffer

Dozens of community members gathered Wednesday to say goodbye to Bookends & Beginnings’ beloved Bookman’s Alley location. 

The bookstore will begin relocating to 1620 Orrington Ave. on Saturday, just months after its new landlord more than doubled rent for its longtime home off Sherman Avenue.

“A bookstore is a community space,” owner Nina Barrett said Wednesday. “Yes, we host book launches, and we host authors and we are a literary space. But we also are a space where people come out of their houses because they aren’t — I’ll say it again: They’re not ordering books on (Amazon). They’re coming here.”

Since its 2014 opening, the independent bookstore has been a hallmark of downtown Evanston, expanding to open an adjacent gift shop in 2021. While the shop weathered many COVID-19 pandemic disruptions that shuttered other Evanston businesses, Barrett announced last month that the 125% rent increase had placed its future in jeopardy.

After months of failed negotiations with their new landlord, Barrett’s only option was to pack up the store’s 40,000 books and move out by the end of January.

Chicago-area author Miranda Sun said Bookends’ alley location is a regular stop for her when she’s in town. She plans to visit the Orrington Avenue store, Sun added.

“Authors and bookstores can work together, sort of like an ecosystem,” Sun said. “You need each other, and you need that support.”

The new and larger Bookends location will feature street-facing display windows and several restrooms. The store plans to stay open later, add alcohol service and host more literary events — hopefully driving traffic to neighboring local businesses, according to Bookends’ GoFundMe. It will also include an expanded children’s section and a mural painted by Barrett’s two sons.

The store has yet to announce a reopening date but is aiming for Feb. 9 or 10, Barrett wrote in an email Wednesday. 

Though Bookends had identified its new home, Barrett wrote in December the store would still need hefty funding to transform the “vanilla box” of the new location. On top of $83,000 in aid from the city of Evanston, the store launched a GoFundMe to support the move. Around 1,300 people have pitched in to keep Bookends going.

As of Thursday, the store has raised $105,000 of its $250,000 goal.

Several people look at tables of books.
Residents browse books at Wednesday’s farewell event. The new and larger Bookends & Beginnings store will feature street-facing display windows, several restrooms and a custom mural. (Maia Pandey/Daily Senior Staffer)

Mayor Daniel Biss said he’s optimistic it will benefit the city to have the “treasure of an institution” more visible and central.

“As the mayor, of course, I love each business in Evanston equally,” Biss said. “But if you scrutinized my credit card statements, it would tell a very different story, and that says this is my favorite business.”

The alley location has housed a bookstore for more than three decades. Before Bookends moved in, the location was home to Bookman’s Alley, the store for which the alley is named. 

The Alley Gallery, a custom framing shop, has been a neighbor to Bookman’s Alley since the Gallery opened in 1985.

“There’s something magical about this space,” Alley Gallery co-owner Darren Oberto said. “This journey that I’ve had with Jeff and Nina is a chapter among the many chapters that have happened in this space.”

One of these chapters is a scene in Evanston author Audrey Niffenegger’s bestselling novel “The Time Traveler’s Wife.” A longtime Bookman’s Alley visitor, Niffenegger featured the original store and its novel in her 2003 book.

Now a Bookends regular, Niffenegger often leaves the store with some of the largest stacks of books Barrett has seen, Barrett said.

Niffenegger said though she’s been visiting a bookstore in the alley since the 1980s, she trusts Barrett will make the new location “unbelievably lovely.”

“The thing about places is that you can get really attached to them, and so to give your heart to a new space can be kind of an act of will,” Niffenegger said. “We all just have to will ourselves into this new space because it is important and it is a home.” 

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified Jeff Garrett as a co-owner at Bookends & Beginnings. Nina Barrett is the sole owner. The Daily regrets the error.

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Twitter: @maiapandey

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