The Chicago Tribune reported that Barbara's Bookstore, a once-dominant independent chain of Chicago bookstores, has closed its UIC-location as of last Sunday(1/08/12). The 9000-square foot UIC store opened in 2003 on the heels of the closing of Barbara's beloved flagship location in Old Town. It's a shame because it had been a key part in raising Chicago's literary profile by hosting big name authors. In 2009, Sedaris-lovers packed the 72-seat back room.
Writing for the Tribune in 2009, in the beloved but underappreciated Book Places beat, I wrote of the store(the article has been archived and cannot be linked without a fee): "There’s a lot to love... The long and narrow store is fronted by street level windows letting in plenty of natural light. It shares a half-dozen tables with Massa, an Italian café joined at the north entrance, and there are two more lounging reading areas amidst the 50 different sections of books. The true treasure of the space is at the opposite end, hidden from view if you can’t get past the sale tables listing titles at over 60% off or the employee recommendations section: the performance space."
Co-owner Don Barliant, who lives in Santa Fe, opted not to renew the lease, signifying an end to Barbara's as a stand-alone bookstore. “Our core business is the quality trade literary bookstore,” Barliant said in 2009. “That’s our true love.”
Sounds like the love affair is over. Barliant shut down its Oak Park store in 2010. That leaves two self-standing Barbara's Bookstores. Barliant has gone the airport/Hudson route, opening up more efficient kiosk-type chains in thoroughfares, like Macy's and O'Hare, where you can get a bestseller in passing.
Even with a dedicated performance space, Barbara's couldn't make it work. I don't want to be tolling any bells, but it seems like the bookstore as a destination in Chicago is becoming an endangered species.