The Book Cellar Celebrates 13 Years in Lincoln Square
Provides Unique Destination Shopping Experience by Peter von Buol
Fourteen years ago, Lincoln Square was a thriving shopping district but there was one glaring absence. There were, however, no bookstores in the neighborhood. It was the era of rapid expansion for large chain bookstores such as the now-defunct Borders and Barnes and Noble. Neither, however, had chosen to open a location within the neighborhood.
Back then, Suzy Takacs had decided she wanted a change in careers. An avid reader, she decided to open her own bookstore in the neighborhood. “I chose Lincoln Square because I live nearby. I was hoping to have a place for book purchases near to where I lived,” Takacs said.
Takacs put together a business plan for her bookstore and sought support from the local community.
“I was very welcomed and supported to this neighborhood during my planning stages. I wrote a business plan and presented it to then-Alderman Gene Schulter (47th) and the presidents of the chambers of commerce for Lincoln Square, Ravenswood and North Center. At that time, Ald. Schulter said he was trying to recruit an independent book store because the neighborhood was requesting, one so it was very serendipitous timing,” Takacs said.
Located at 4736-38 N. Lincoln Ave. The Book Cellar opened its doors for the first time in June, 2004. From the beginning, the store recalled Old World bookstores. Takacs and her staff made a point to treat customers like family and friends. They were invited to spend time at the book store. Customers stayed to enjoy its café food and to sip wine at its regular author book signings, too.
According to Takacs, while the neighborhood may have changed a bit since 2004, many of its unique qualities remain. Some of the longtime stores and restaurants that had long catered to a German immigrant clientele have closed but the overall community spirit remains.
“It reminds me of Mayberry [the fictional town setting of The Andy Griffith Show]. People recognize each other, say hello and have an interest in the neighborhood. Some stores or restaurants have come and gone but the basic sensibility and friendly-support has remained. Possibly today, there are more strollers,” Takacs said.
From the first days of The Book Cellar, Takacs and her staff have made it a point to connect with their customers and to be the opposite of the impersonal large book stores that emphasized best-sellers. She credits her success with knowing what her customers want to read and to anticipate new titles they may be interested in reading.
“When I first opened our doors for business, I had a composition book at the front desk for suggestions of authors or titles to carry in the store. Now, I follow sales history. Authors that have sold well in the past or events that have been well attended in the past are what I continue to carry. Although, it is a ton of fun to introduce guests to a debut writer or a book they might have not considered before. The people that work at the store are voracious readers and are always happy to make a book recommendation. Movies that are popular, television serials, pop culture happenings or current events steer the types of books that people request to read.
A former board member of the Lincoln Square Chamber of Commerce and the local SSA, Takacs said she believes it is important for local business owners and residents to be involved with the community.
“I believe it is important to contribute to the community you work or live in. When the Chamber hosts events, we usually host story-time for the event. We have been members of the chamber since we have opened for business. I also try to direct my business to members of the Chamber when possible. It is my hope that by contributing to the neighborhood through the Chamber of Commerce, that the neighborhood will shop at my store and support my store. We are here for each other,” Takacs said.
According to Takacs, The Book Cellar survived the Great Recession of 2008 because the store stocked a wide range of price-points.
“People would purchase a magazine or coffee drink when a book was unaffordable. Books are a thoughtful gift when higher priced items are out of reach. We have always offered an interesting treat that could fit a range of price points,” Takacs said.
While The Book Cellar remains a traditional neighborhood bookstore that sells actual books, Takacs said her store has also embraced electronic books.
“We met the challenge by selling ebooks on our website that will work for any reading device, except for the Kindle. All you need is the free Kobo app and you can purchase an ebook from our store. The directions for that process are on our website. We also sell audio books from our website. We also have an online shopping cart on our website, just like any other online retailer,” said Takacs.
Always lurking, however, is the challenge of the large online book retailers that usually do not have the costs associated with operation a brick-and-mortar store and which can make a profit on low profit margins and high-volume.
“Online retail is the biggest, most ominous challenge for us now. It happens every day that people read a recommendation in our store or photograph a book cover in the store and [then] walk out to buy the book online elsewhere. It is my hope that if you learn about the book here, you purchase it here. Some stores have implemented rules about no photos or cell phones in the shop,” Takacs said.
Compared to large book retailers, The Book Cellar may seem to be a small neighborhood store. As a smaller store, not every book sought by customers will be in stock. Even regular customers may be surprised to learn how easy it is to place a special order at the store.
“We are a small space and it is impossible to carry every title that is available but we do have a quick procedure for special orders. They can be shipped or picked up at the store. I think many people use this service. They want to come to the store, but they want me to have what they are looking for. Guests order the books and pick it up at The Book Cellar,” said Takacs.
The Book Cellar welcomes book-clubs and discussion groups. For information about readings and events, call (773) 293-2665.