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All Abe Bookstore Thrives as Museum and Publisher
Sam Weller -- 2/14/00

Dan Weinberg has taken the idea of the "niche bookstore" to new extremes. The name of his shop says it all: The Abraham Lincoln Bookstore. Since 1938, the Chicago store has been serving scholars, Civil War aficionados and devotees of the 16th president of the U.S. In total, the 3,200-square-foot store store houses 10,000 new, used and antiquarian titles, but is much more than a specialty bookstore. It also doubles as an overstuffed museum and a publishing company that reprints out-of-print scholarly material.

In 1971, Weinberg forged a friendship the bookstore's original owner, Ralph G. Newman, and was soon a co-owner. "Newman was looking for someone to eventually take over the shop," said Weinberg, who took on sole ownership of the store in 1984. Today, Weinberg oversees the day-to-day retail operations, along with the store's booming international mail-order business, which, he said, accounts for more than half of the store's annual business. The bookstore handles healthy Internet business at alincolnbookshop.com. The store mails customers a catalogue three times a year.

"While the largest quantity of sales comes through the mail, my best sales are when people come to Chicago and visit the store," Weinberg told PW. "The advantage of being in the middle of the country is that Chicago has so many conventions that introduce us to people who may purchase from us later over the phone or through the mail or over the Internet."

Located in the heart of Chicago's ritzy River North district, the Abraham Lincoln Bookstore is surrounded by high-priced art galleries and gourmet eateries. Security is tight, as the shop houses all sorts of authentic remnants from the life of President Lincoln. There are casts of Lincoln's face, and letters and legal briefs written in Honest Abe's hand. The bookstore also contains photographs, oil paintings and books from Lincoln's personal library. Weinberg also sells prints from an original Collodion wet-plate glass plate negative of Lincoln, taken on November 8, 1863 -- just 11 days before he delivered the Gettysburg Address.

Adding to this singular fusion of bookstore and museum is the shop's publishing arm, Americana House Publishing. To date, Weinberg has published four reprint titles: The Great American Myth: The True Story of Lincoln's Murder by George S. Bryan; Lincoln as Lawyer by John P. Frank; A Treasury of Lincoln Quotations by Fred Kerner; and Education in Violence, about George Henry Thomas and the Army of the Cumberland, by Francis F. McKinney.

"One of the reasons I started publishing is that as a specialist in the field, I saw the books that were needed," said Weinberg. "These were the books my customers were looking for and which I wanted to sell, yet I couldn't find. So I knew which ones were the best to try and publish."

"The Abraham Lincoln Bookstore is a marvelous place," said John Simon, executive director of the Ulysses S. Grant Association, which has published 22 volumes of Grant's papers. Ironically, Simon worked for the Lincoln Bookstore's original owner for three successive summers beginning back in 1953 so he could "just buy a set of the collected works of Abraham Lincoln."
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