Don Barliant, the owner of Barbara's Bookstores, tempted fate: not only by opening yet another Barbara's in a weak economy, but by opening the new store on Friday, February 13. The newest Barbara's Bookstore is located adjacent to the University of Illinois at Chicago campus, less than two miles south of the Loop. The 8,500-sq.-ft. store, with an inventory of 20,000—30,000 titles, is the largest Barbara's. It's the seventh Barbara's in the Chicago area and the 10th nationwide.
According to Barliant, who owns Barbara's Bookstores with his wife, Janet Bailey, the university approached him about opening a bookstore in the up-and-coming University Village neighborhood, next to the east end of the campus. Barliant told PW, "I thought it was a great opportunity to bring a trade bookstore into a new neighborhood in the heart of the city, three blocks from where I grew up."
The university is working with Barbara's Bookstores to lure the 30,000 UIC students and 14,000 UIC employees into the store, Barliant said. UIC officials plastered the campus with flyers announcing the store's opening and sent e-mails to faculty and staff as well. "The university has partnered with us in this endeavor," Barliant said. "They're highly excited and supportive of us."
Debi Morris, general manager of Barbara's, emphasized that while this newest addition to the growing Barbara's empire will function as the university bookstore, that is not the store's primary identity. "We don't yet know what our focus will be, but we intend to carry a broad range of academic titles," she said. "We don't, however, regard ourselves as an academic bookstore: we are a full-service bookstore serving students, UIC faculty and staff and their families, as well as residents in the neighborhoods in the general area."
Although Barbara's staff is still assessing the needs of the neighborhood to determine stock, Barliant knows he want to make his latest venture a community center in University Village. The store features a state-of-the-art performance space that will be used for readings, panel discussions and other public events. "It's a great performance space, and we hope to draw in a lot of people into the store with our programming," Barliant said.
When asked if he had been a little nervous about opening the new Barbara's on the 13th, Barliant laughed and said, "My daughter was born on a Friday the 13th. We're not superstitious, but we are proof positive that Friday the 13th is a lucky day. I have good feelings for Friday the 13th, it's brought me luck before."