I remember the day, nearly five years ago, when my book-loving daughter told me that a used bookstore had opened on South Oak Park Avenue near the Steckman Studio of Music and the Rooftop Cafe. While I love any store that sells the bound, printed word, I’m particularly fascinated by used bookstores. My two favorite local bookshops, Centuries & Sleuths and The Book Table, both sell a few used books, but it had been years since the area boasted a bona fide used bookstore. So my daughter and I like to think we were one of the first customers to cross the threshold of the Looking Glass Bookstore.
The owners, Steve and Pattie Kirshenbaum, were still unpacking books at that point, apologizing for the disarray. I didn’t understand their concern until I saw the finished product and realized the very excellent reason behind the store’s tagline, “Not just another used bookstore.” Other used bookshop proprietors I’d known were apparently content to shelve their wares in a general semblance of organization, knowing that real book lovers probably wouldn’t care how they were arranged. I know I never did.
But on walking through the doors of Looking Glass, you feel as if you’ve entered one of those smallish homes where someone has been beautifully and brilliantly intentional with every square inch of space. The enormous selection is so well-organized, and interspersed so attractively with literary-themed gifts and décor, that any bibliophile I know would have some difficulty staying in the store for less than 30 minutes.
The near-magical, welcoming ambiance is not only laid out for shoppers; Steve and Pattie are also enthusiastic supporters of local writers. They stock the new titles of nearly 20 resident authors (myself included) and sell them on a generous consignment basis. While the shop cannot accommodate a crowd for author events, I’ve attended multiple presentations there that comfortably situated about 15 people. The authors had to keep moving around a bit to maintain intermittent eye contact with everyone seated on different sides of the center shelving, but that was part of the fun.
Looking Glass stocks all types of books, some of them collectible, including those cool mid-20th-century paperbacks, located near the entrance so you can’t miss them on the way out (not unlike the candy at grocery store check-out aisles). Vintage hardcovers are more my thing, though, and I’ve purchased some real beauties here.
Clearly, I’m addicted to Looking Glass. I’m not sure if it’s the ambiance, the possibility of finding a treasure, or the opportunity to shop local for all my beloved bookworms, but I can think of worse ways to spend 30 minutes. Or more.
The Looking Glass Bookstore is located at 823 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park. Or visit www.thelookingglassbooks.com.
Kathryn Atwood is an Oak Park resident.