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Independent Bookstores, Part V

This A-frame sidewalk sign directs pedestrians to Bookends & Beginnings and alters them to find updates about the bookshop on its Facebook page.  It opened on Saturday, June 14, 2014.
This A-frame sidewalk sign directs pedestrians to Bookends & Beginnings and alters them to find updates about the bookshop on its Facebook page. It opened on Saturday, June 14, 2014.
Bookends & Beginnings

I have good news in that a new independent bookstore, Bookends & Beginnings, opened in Evanston last month. Husband-and-wife owners Jeffrey Garrett and Nina Barrett opened it in the space formerly occupied by Bookman’s Alley on Saturday, June 14, 2014.

Roger Carlson announced last year he had to retire and close Bookman’s Alley. Elizabeth Tisdahl, Mayor of Evanston, and Elaine Kemna-Irish, Executive Director of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce, joined Nina and Jeff to cut the ribbon on opening day. The owners chronicled their effort to open the store and now keep customers abreast of new developments on Facebook.

Garrett recently retired as Associate University Librarian for Special Libraries & Director of Special Collections and Archives at Northwestern University. He earned degrees from the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich) and the University of California – Berkley and has an impressive curriculum vitae.

On the Web site Newcity Lit Naomi Huffman wrote, “Nina Barrett has always followed her passions. After earning an English degree from Yale, she worked as an editorial assistant at St. Martin’s Press. She was then offered a leading position at the Literary Guild that required she read five to seven books a week, typically whatever was hitting the best-seller lists. After years spent studying nineteenth-century literature at Yale, the job experience provided Barrett with what she describes as an ‘incredible grounding’ in popular American literature.”

Barrett came to Chicago in 1985 to attend the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She spent a year pursuing a culinary degree, a change of course that she’d intended to cap with opening a restaurant. Instead, she began working as a food reporter for WBEZ. 'The pull of words in me is strong,' Barrett says.

In the 1990s, Nina Barrett had three books published. Dissatisfied with advice she received from her pediatrician when she sought advice about her colicky baby, she negotiated a contract with Simon & Schuster and interviewed sixty-four mothers for I Wish Someone Had Told Me: A Realistic Guide to Early Motherhood, published in 1991.

She followed these up with The Playgroup, published in 1994, and The Girls, published in 1998. Theresa Pease covered this period of Ms. Barrett’s life for Andover the Magazine (published by her high school, Philips Andover Academy in Andover, Massachusetts).

Barrett wrote her three books at home while her sons Sam… and George… were in part-time day care. She stayed with the world of letters by working a few hours each week in Chicago’s premiere feminist bookstore. She has also taught non-fiction writing at Northwestern University, the University of Illinois at Chicago and DePaul University.

Nina Barrett’s voice is a familiar one to many Chicagoans. She is a freelance food reporter who produces radio stories for W.B.E.Z. (91.5 F.M.), Chicago’s N.P.R. station.

Her show Fear of Frying: Culinary Nightmares won the 2012 James Beard Foundation Award for Radio Broadcast Excellence. This was a Thursday morning segment on the show Eight Forty Eight. In 2013, she set up a Fear of Frying Web site to support the show.

She was a 2012–2013 Library Fellow at Northwestern University’s Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities. She taught creative non-fiction writing at Northwestern University’s School of Continuing Studies.

Two days before the grand opening, Evanston Patch Editor Emily Stone noted, “The store is inviting customers to name their ‘top three’ books, a list they’ll also collect from visiting authors and staff, and use for displays in the store.”

On her blog Literary Vittles, Alina Dunbar described Bookends & Beginnings as “A darling little independent bookstore — with an incredible selection.”

She quoted Jeff Garrett as saying, “We have been inspired by Ray Oldenburg and his concept of third places. In his book ‘The Great Good Place’, Oldenburg talks about bookstores, taverns, and libraries as third places — not home, not work, but places where people gather. Starting about 50 years ago, these kinds of places began disappearing in America as people moved out of cities and into the suburbs to gain expensive privacy. But what this overlooked was community. In America, neighbors don’t even know each other.”

The fact is that a bookstore should be a place for community. For this reason, we have designed Bookends & Beginnings with a lot of open spaces, with a large amount and wide variety of seating. The hope is that people will come here to mingle and talk about books — or whatever they want! In a way, what we are doing is fostering a surrogate conversation.

In the Sherman Garden Cooperative Apartments July 2014 Newsletter Supplement, Joan Cotter wrote, “Do you ever get tired of clicking ‘Add to Car’” when you’re book shopping?”

Would you like to talk to real owners of a bookstore in person, people who know their books and want to know you, too?

Would you like to hold the book in your hands, thumb through its contents, and get the feel of it before deciding to buy it?

Do you like a mix of stock: old and brand new, used and remaindered books?

Do you need a birthday book for your grandchild?

And, by the way, would you like to pick up some attractive jewelry or some stationery, reasonably priced – like the books – and available in the same store?

If this sounds attractive to you, … in the alley behind Saville Flowers and in the same location where Bookman’s Alley used to be, is BOOKENDS & BEGINNINGS, a brand new independent bookstore, or ‘indie,’ as they’re known nowadays…

The selection of books is wide-ranging, with two areas of special interest: Nina’s cookbook section and Jeff’s collection of international children’s books. Nina had a career in book publishing and then received an M.A. from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism.

After graduating from culinary school, she twice received the James Beard award for her WBEZ culinary series “Fear of Frying.” The international children’s books reflect Jeff’s life-long personal and professional interest. He was editor of Bookbird: An International Journal of Children’s Literature for several years and had a three-year term as the president of the Hans Christian Andersen Award jury. He has written numerous articles about the genre and proudly mentions that this could be the largest collection of its kind in a bookstore in this country.

Ms. Huffman asked, “You’ll be selling new, used, and out-of-print books. What will people find at Bookends & Beginnings that they can’t find anywhere else?” Ms. Barrett answered, in part, “We have to contend with the fact that Amazon has defined a world in which everyone wants to get a bargain on a book. I don’t think you can do business anymore with a stock of entirely new books and expect to get by. If you sell used books, you have access to a century of literature that isn’t in print anymore. We have several sources of really good used books.”

Because of my long history in publishing, I know what to look for. And from my culinary experience, I know what cookbooks I want to bring in. For instance, I’ll be selling the entire series of Time-Life cookbooks, which existed in the late sixties and early seventies. They hired the best culinary experts from countries around the world and put together beautiful cookbooks that have not just recipes, but narrative chapters about how the food fits into the culture. I learned to cook from them.

The mailing address is 1712 Sherman Avenue Rear 1, Evanston, Illinois 60201. The phone number is (224) 999-7722.

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