Times were tough for black-owned bookstores. Just after the holiday season, Chicago’s Semicolon Bookstore and Gallery and Da Book Partnership announced they would be closing their locations.
But thanks to the efforts of their owners and community members who stepped in, both businesses were able to recover.
The semicolon has moved into new territory, and Da Book Joint is staying the course, according to a Facebook post from Da Book Joint co-owner Courtney Woods: “Through random acts of generosity, motivational speeches from current customers, and lots of prayers, we decided to keep fighting .”
Semicolon in West Town has been known for its connection to the community since it opened in 2019. hosting book giveaways for students to promote literacy in Chicagoland.
Da Book Joint opened its current location Boxville shipping container market, 330 E. 51st St., in Washington Park in November 2021 to provide better access to books for South Side residents. Getting through something life-altering like a pandemic but now having to close down Other businesses like theirs are struggling to hold onIt would be tragic.
Owner Danielle Mullen closed Semicolon’s West Town location on Jan. 6 to move to a new location that will open this summer in Garfield Park. This move will be the store’s fourth in its five-year existence.
Mullen said this will be their last move for a long time, given that their new headquarters will be in the Fifth City House of Commons. Preserving Affordable Housing development with a retail space and restaurant. Molly Ekerdt, vice president of the Preservation of Affordable Housing, said the question of what would be a good fit for the Fifth City House of Commons came up at a community dinner and Mullen’s job was mentioned. The timing intrigued Mullen.
Ekerdt said development was approached with the mindset of “Let’s talk to people and figure out what might work here.” “If you really work with people and listen to them, you can build connections through word of mouth to get the kind of retail that supports life in neighborhoods that people want to see.”
Mullen said some Garfield Park residents came to the West Town location in 2023 saying Garfield Park deserved a semicolon. At the time, Mullen was considering a secondary across from Marshall Metropolitan High School. However, he did not have the strength to make this move.
The plans fell through when the Affordable Housing Preservation reached out to Mullen to make it a reality while he was parting ways with his West Town landlord. 3155 W. Fifth Ave. This building, which is under construction at , will be Semicolon’s home for the next 10 years. Mullen said the space will include a bar and restaurant in addition to the bookstore, and will be run by Mullen and his wife, Kimberly Moore, who co-owns 1308 Restaurant near Goose Island.
“We are happy to open another branch of that restaurant inside the bookstore,” Mullen said. “Books are not enough for our existence. The good thing is that we have now moved to a completely non-profit model. That’s why we opened ourselves to grants.”
Mullen says Semicolon’s handmade candles are big sellers, helping the bottom line, and he’s now considering selling his own brand of whiskey at book events at the restaurant. After hosting a cookbook author at Semicolon, Mullen discovered that customers responded to programs where they could sample cookbook items prepared by the authors. When the new location opens, writers will be able to cook their menu for customers for a week.
“Selling your cookbook is one thing, but people want to taste the food,” Mullen said. “If you’re selling your cookbook and want to come to Semicolon, you’ve got to do some cooking, honey! We create a completely immersive space where you can see the best of culture. “We have other ways we can keep ourselves in the game.”
This includes hosting comedy events, teaming up with the Humanities Festival for an event with Joy-Ann Reid, and hosting celebrities like RuPaul. It’s about putting things in order to move 500-plus books, and that’s the key to the semicolon’s staying power, Mullen said.
But Semicolon didn’t just have to endure moving pain. He had to compete with the idea that books were luxury items.
“How can we win against Amazon when they are considered a luxury product and you can get them cheaper?” asked.
But the store holds on. It was related to a theft that caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage last year. According to Mullen, Semicolon fell victim to an employee scam in February. Mullen attributes this to relying on people with the knowledge to run the business. While this set him back, it did not detract from Semicolon’s mission: It is dedicated to closing the literacy gap among minority communities by providing access to and increasing interest in books.
“We have a lot of work to do, but if our interest in reading wanes around the age of 14, that’s where we need to restart it,” he said.
And Mullen remains positive. The Garfield Park location is taking a break before opening. Construction should be completed by June. He expects to host a block party to welcome the community to the space in August, when it is scheduled to open. Mullen hopes that being consistent with a single location will help grow the brand into something bigger that can be modeled for other cities.
“I’d like to be in cities I like to hang out in. I’m thinking L.A., Atlanta,” Mullen said. “I want to be involved in the communities that need us most. You can open a bookstore anywhere, but not every community needs a way to get Black and brown kids interested in literature. I want to be involved in communities that do this because we are great at it. “I know this is my market and there are tons of places that could use this kind of social love.”
Woods’ mother, Verlean Singletary, owner of Da Book Joint, is trying to provide the same kind of community love at her shipping container store in Boxville near the Green Line. It was tempted to move to an online-only presence and close down the physical site due to inflation, competition from big box stores that were more able to download its books than independent bookstores, and the store’s location. The story was published on: social media He said it would be closed on December 30, but later decided to go ahead and keep the mission alive.
“We were going to shut down and go back online because business was pretty slow,” Singletary said. “But we’ve had a lot of support from our landlord, Urban Juncture, and also from the community who want us to stay here. That’s why we decided to resist and fight.”
The store announced its decision Facebook in January? 3. Singletary and Woods run the store on Fridays and Saturdays. Singletary said the duo is working with Urban Juncture on aesthetics and will be creating more programs to increase their customer base.
Woods said plans include holding more book events and pop-up events to make more people aware of the store, especially as Black History Month approaches. Book fairs and book clubs with meals and conversations are already being introduced.
“We will definitely step up our efforts this year,” Woods said. “Continue to reach out to the community, because the way independent bookstores across the country can thrive and survive is by having support from the people who live in our communities and the people who read books here.”
Woods’ advice to the public: “Support, support, support” to help keep businesses open.
“We have a dream and most importantly we have a mission,” Woods wrote in a Facebook post. “There is a desperate need for books on Chicago’s South Side, especially books that represent the people who live and grow up here. The South Side is already a book desert, and books by Black authors are nearly impossible to find. “We will continue to amplify these voices and showcase their stories.”
The bachelor accepted. “We will stay there until we grow and improve ourselves,” he said. “Our dream is to have a cafe in a larger place where we can store our books and serve hot and cold drinks to our customers.”