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Independent Bookstores, Part III

Anderson’s Bookshops has two bookstores, Anderson’s Bookshop in downtown Naperville, and Anderson’s Bookshop in downtown Downer’s Grove, as well as Anderson’s Bookfair Company (also known as ABC Fairs and ABCFairs, in Aurora. Both of the bookshops are within easy walking distance of public libraries.

The business includes a gift shop. The family also owns a pharmacy as a separate business.

Anderson’s Bookshop Naperville is located at 123 West Jefferson, Naperville, Illinois 60540. The phone number there is (630) 355-2665.

Anderson’s Bookshop Downer’s Grove is located at 5112 Main Street, Downer’s Grove, Illinois 60515. The phone number there is (630) 963-2665.

The Andersons have been in the book trade for six generations. The fifth generation is currently in charge.

Their history in the book trade is bound up with the history of the pharmacy. It begins with William Wallace Wickel (1844-1927) opening W.W. Wickel Pharmacy in Naperville in 1875.

Back then, Naperville was a farm town with a train stop on the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad (CB&Q). Now a western suburb of Chicago, it is the fifth-largest municipality in the state after Chicago, Aurora, Rockford, and Joliet.

William Wallace Wickel and his wife, Sarah Ann Weitzel Wickel (1849-1916), were the progenitors of the line. Wickel and his son-in-law, Louis William Oswald (1879-1955), sold books in the pharmacy. By 1899, the pharmacy was W.W. Wickel & Company. Eventually, Oswald changed the pharmacy’s name to Oswald’s, though many people called it Ozzie’s.

This is also a love story. In 1930, Harold Charles Kester (1910-2001), a graduate of Knox College and the University of Illinois College of Pharmacy who had worked as a pharmacist in Downers Grove, went to work at Oswald’s Pharmacy and met Helen Gwendolyn Oswald (1908-1991).

The next year, she became Helen Kester. They would have two daughters, Jean Anderson and Anita Gappen. At the time of his death on July 12, 2001, they also had seven grandchildren and thirteen great-grandchildren.

In 1953, Harold C. Kester became the owner of Oswald’s Pharmacy. He broke with tradition and did not rename it Kester’s Pharmacy.

In 1964, H.C. Kester opened a bookshop as a separate business above Oswald’s. He called it Paperback Paradise. Later, he also co-founded W.W. Wickel Company as a wholesaler of children’s books that changed its name to Anderson’s Bookfair Company.

In 1980, the family opened a bookshop in Downer’s Grove. Two years later, they opened Anderson’s Bookfair Company in the basement of the Downer’s Grove bookshop. Over the years, it has moved five times and is now in a warehouse in Aurora.

For thirteen years, they also operated a bookshop in downtown Elmhurst, but they were forced to close it in March of 2003, The Sun reported. A few years ago, the family opened Two Doors East, a gift shop two doors down from the bookshop in Naperville. It is located at 111 West Jefferson Avenue.

In the mid-2000s, the family moved Oswald’s Pharmacy from the location it had occupied for nearly 130 years to a much larger location at 88 West Gartner Road in Naperville Plaza, at the intersection of Gartner Road and Washington Street. It is a full-service pharmacy and has 1,500 square feet for a books and toys department.

After reading an advance reader’s copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was called in the U.S.), the Andersons knew the book would be a big seller for them and they arranged with Scholastic Corporation, the American publisher, for J.K. Rowling to visit the shop in Naperville. Eighty schoolchildren and their teachers showed up to see her.

When she came to Anderson’s for the release of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, over 5,000 fans came to see her. In 2005, for the midnight release of the sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, about 50,000 people celebrated in downtown Naperville. For the seventh book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, over 70,000 people celebrated the midnight release in downtown Naperville.

A 2008 renovation of the Naperville bookshop removed an office to add 500 feet of retail space. They also raised the ceilings, built two washrooms, replaced the service desk and front counters, changed the color scheme, and installed a new audio system for better sound quality when authors visit.

As Kristy Kennedy recounted in the Chicago Tribune last year, Jean Anderson’s husband, Bob, ran Oswald’s Pharmacy for years and now their son, Bill, runs it, while their other three children – Becky, Tres, and Peter – work in the book trade. Becky and Tres run the Anderson’s Bookshops in Naperville and Downers Grove while Peter runs ABC Fairs in Aurora with the assistance of Becky. All thirteen of their children work or have worked in the family businesses.

Becky Anderson Wilkins appeared on Windy City Live when the Andersons celebrated the 135th anniversary of the business. In 2010, the Anderson’s celebrated the 135th anniversary of Oswald’s Pharmacy, 46th anniversary of the bookshop in Naperville, 31st anniversary of the bookshop in Downers Grove, and the 28th anniversary of ABC Fairs. The next year, Publishers Weekly named Anderson’s Books the PW Bookshop of the Year.

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