Ann Christophersen and Linda Bubon have sold Women & Children First, the feminist bookstore they founded 35 years ago which is one of the few remaining feminist bookstores in the U.S.
The two new owners of the bookstore are Lynn Mooney and Sarah Hollenbeck, both of whom were previously employees at the store. Mooney, who’s been at the store for about six years, is currently the store's manager and publicist. Her publishing background includes stints at HarperCollins and McGraw-Hill. Hollenbeck, who started working at WCF in September, is a frontline bookseller. She has worked at Barnes & Noble and Borders, and also interned at Independent Publishers Group. A writer, she teaches at Story Studio Chicago, a writing center.
The papers will be signed at the end of this month, turning WCF’s ownership over to Hollenbeck and Mooney. Christophersen, a former American Booksellers Association board president (2002-04), will officially retire from bookselling on August 6; Bubon will stay on staff on a part-time basis for the next two years. Bubon will continue to run the monthly women’s book group and Wednesday mornings children’s story times during this time. The other employees (there are nine, including the two exiting owners and the incoming owners) will remain on staff as well.
Christophersen, 65, and Bubon, 63, told PW at Heartland Fall Forum last October that they were ready to retire, and were eager to pass on the store, which has become a literary icon in Chicago, to new owners. The pair hoped the new owners would bring, in Christophersen’s words, “freshness, energy, and new good ideas” to the business. The one thing Christophersen and Bubon did not want changed is the store's identification as a feminist bookstore.
After surviving a serious downturn in business in 2007, the store has since rebounded and is on solid ground, especially now that Borders is no longer cutting into their business. Sales were up three times this past weekend what they are on a typical July Saturday, as nine Windy City indies banded together for Chicago Independent Bookstore Day.
Hollenbeck, 30, says that shortly after she was hired by Bubon and Christophersen, they told her they were going to put the store on the market. “The idea started percolating that the new owner should be someone from within the store,” she recalled during a telephone interview with PW on Tuesday afternoon. “I knew I couldn’t do it alone. Lynn seemed to be the perfect fit.”
Christophersen and Bubon, who were at the time graduate students at the University of Illinois Chicago, founded WCF in 1979 in an 850-square-foot retail space in Lincoln Park. The business partners moved to a larger space in Andersonville in 1990, which they expanded upon in 1998 by moving into the storefront next door. While the store has always been committed to carrying feminist, lesbian, and children’s titles, it has also for the past 15 years carried select mainstream titles to appeal to a broader readership. The store carries 30,000 books in its 3,400-square-foot space, as well as cards, magazines, music, and other sidelines.
Hollenbeck says that there will be “just a little” physical renovation scheduled for January and February. The back room will become a dedicated event space to allow WCF to expand and diversify its already strong programming.
Last year, WCF was one of five finalists for PW’s Bookstore of the Year, which was awarded to Green Apple Books in San Francisco.