NASCAR races don’t usually have any effect at all on bookselling, but last weekend’s controversial street race through Chicago’s Loop area July 1-2 had a negative impact that turned into a positive for one Windy City indie. Exile in Bookville, located on the second floor of the historic Fine Arts Building on S. Michigan Avenue, overlooked the 2.2 mile circular route. While Exile in Bookville lost an estimated $15,000 in sales during the four days during and immediately following the races because it closed its doors to customers, local authors, customers, and even other booksellers rallied to try to alleviate the race's financial toll on the store.
The total amount lost due to the race, Kristin Enola Gilbert, one of the store’s co-owners told PW, is difficult to pinpoint since Exile in Bookville not only lost money during the race, but also lost business several weeks leading up to the race. She said not only were there street closures due to construction along the route--thus deterring customers from visiting the store-- but author events scheduled during the second half of June had to be canceled. “We could not host events because there was constant jackhammering outside our building,” she said, noting that the store usually hosts three or four author events each week during the summer months.
Although the July 4th weekend in Chicago traditionally is the busiest weekend in summer for downtown retailers and other businesses, including Exile in Bookville, Gilbert said there was no real alternative but to close for the weekend as well as Monday and Tuesday. “It was our choice not to be open, but it really wasn’t a choice,” Gilbert said, describing a perfect storm of inaccessibility on July 1-2, with Michigan Avenue being closed to traffic, 10-foot barriers lining sidewalks with only intermittent access points, and ear-splitting noise and vibrations.
“We’re not upset with NASCAR,” Gilbert said, “We’re just upset with how the city [government] handled it," noting that the former mayor signed a three-year contract with NASCAR. "The current mayor’s going to lose a lot of votes if he lets this happen again. Businesses lost out,” she said.
After Gilbert and co-owner Javier Ramirez announced on social media on Friday that Exile in Bookville would be closed for the next four days and why, the store’s supporters rallied. Local authors like Rebecca Makkai and Daniel Kraus urged their fans to shop online at Exile. “We got more online orders on those four days than we’ve gotten in the last two years,” Ramirez said Wednesday morning. Of the 150 online orders processed by Wednesday morning, there were several from other booksellers around the country, ranging from Emily Russo and Josh Christie of Print in Portland, Me. to Spencer Ruchti of Third Place Books in Seattle.
“We were blown away by the reaction to our social media post,” Gilbert said, “We did not expect it.” Ramirez added, “Customers new and old gave us support; that nearly brought us to tears starting Friday afternoon and continuing through this morning.”