Authors across the country are publicly supporting indie bookstores in various creative ways after so many stores have closed their doors to walk-in traffic, and Chicago's are no different. Several Chicago-based authors are working to amplify the plights of two Windy City indies that are more vulnerable than most—especially since Governor J.B. Pritzker issued on March 20 a stay-at-home order for Illinois residents.
Madison Street Books in Chicago's West Loop neighborhood held a grand opening celebration all day on Saturday, March 14, drawing 25 customers to the store before shutting its doors to walk-in traffic on March 16. Four-year-old Pilsen Community Books assumed new ownership on March 1, and also shut its doors to walk-in traffic on March 16.
On the same day that Pritzker ordered Illinois residents to stay home, Rebecca Makkai issued what Madison Street Books co-owner Javier Ramirez calls “the Makkai Challenge.” Makkai informed her 2,100 Facebook followers that, for anyone who buys her books from either Madison Street Books or Pilsen Community Books and sends her proof of purchase, she will put their name in a pool and ask her children this weekend to “pick five names at random.” Makkai will then, she wrote, send “reader/writer care packages (tell me which you are, and I'll customize)” to each of the five winners.
The packages, Makkai promised, will include two stories she has written—“one on paper, the other on balloons”—plus “a postcard saying hi, two books I adore and want you to read, and one literary journal. If I can swing it, I'll stick chocolate in there, too.” If anyone already owns all four of her books, she added, “or absolutely hates my books,” Makkai said she would extend the offer to people who purchase Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear by another Chicago-based writer, Kim Brooks, “because we all need to be reading it right now,” Makkai explained.
Three other Chicago authors—Keir Graff, Daniel Kraus, and Michael Moreci—have joined forces to ask their fellow authors to support Chicago indies with orders during this crisis. And they are also singling out Madison Street and Pilsen Community for special attention.
The trio set up a Google spreadsheet and asked their fellow authors to sign up to order online from an indie on a specific date and time. Using the hashtag #AuthorsBuyIndie, the purchaser is then asked to post on social media with an image of the book, a link to the website of the store at which they ordered the book, and such details as whether the store provides curbside delivery or pick-up services. (While both Madison Street and Pilsen offer online ordering and shipping for a nominal charge, Madison Street also provides for local pick-up from a cart just inside the store’s entrance and curbside delivery by either of the two co-owners.) So far, more than 30 authors have signed up, including Mary Kubica, Renée Rosen, and Melanie Benjamin.
“We conceived this idea initially to support newly-launched Madison Street Books and Pilsen Community Books,” the trio wrote in a letter to their fellow authors. “So we’d love to see them get some extra love, but please extend this to any and all Chicago indies.”
During a conference call with PW, Madison Street’s Ramirez and his co-owner, Mary Mollman, reported that, despite being officially open for only one day in March, sales are already strong, ranging from locals walking by with their dogs or babies and then ordering books they see in window displays to online, phone, emailed, and texted orders. “I just filled an order from Plano, Tex.,” Mollman noted. “We’re shipping books all over the country. It’s incredible how people from all over are pitching in.”
Pilsen Community Books co-owner Mandy Medley also reported that she and her two business partners have been handling a healthy volume of orders since the store closed its doors to walk-in traffic two weeks after the new co-owners took over from the store's founding owners, Aaron Lippelt and Mary Gibbons. “It’s been different,” Medley said during a telephone interview. “We thought we’d be working directly with the public. But it’s been so lovely having authors recognize the importance of indie bookstores; sales are great. Katherine [Solheim, a co-owner] and I live within walking distance of the store, while Tom [Flynn, a co-owner] is working from home. Katherine and I have been filling orders as fast as we can. There’s been a lot of them: not just for books, but also for our brand new totebags and gift certificates.”