One Happy Effect Of Chicago's Amazon Bookstore: The Indie Shops Are More United Than Ever

By Stephen Gossett in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 4, 2017 8:58PM

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Getty Images / Photo: Justin Sullivan

The reviews are in for the new Amazon bookstore in Chicago—and they ain't kind. Christopher Borrelli likened the experience to body snatching in Monday's boom-lowering write-up in the Tribune. But the IRL arrival of the retailer behemoth has sparked a happy, unintended consequence. Chicagoland's independent bookstores, already supportive of one another, might now be more coordinated and collaborative than ever.

Several customers, including some high-profile authors, came into Volumes Bookcafe, in Wicker Park, the day that Amazon Books opened its store, in Lakeview—specifically as a show of solidarity, Kimberly George, co-owner of Volumes, said. "They just wanted to say, 'we're here to support you,' which was really cool, George told Chicagoist. The authors also have product available through Amazon, of course, but it was clear where their affections live. "'We'd rather support you,' they all said."

Overall though, George and other bookstores we spoke to said there hadn't been a measurable rise or decline in foot traffic or sales since the launch of Amazon Brick, as it were. But it's specter did nonetheless solidify the working relationship between indie shops, according to George.

"Fortunately independent bookstores are very supportive to begin with. But now it's been really collaborative, which is great because we’'e new to the group," George said, pointing out last year's expansion of the Wicker Park West Town Lit Fest last year. We can expect to see big collaborative things in the summer, too. "It's a big thing we have over something corporate like [Amazon]. We do recommend customers to other stores. We have that kind of camaraderie that they’ll never have."

Nina Barrett, who helped create the Chicagoland Independent Bookstore Alliance—a coalition of 23 area indie shops that organized in the wake of Amazon's Chicago store announcement—agrees. "Chicago is a great bookstore tourism destination, with so many options and so many different personalities," Barrett told Chicagoist. And the sense of community on which that status rests has only solidified following Amazon's arrival, she said.

The fact that Amazon's Chicago store seems to function more as a data collection facility or test run for some similar future concept, but with furniture or appliances, than genuine, traditional bookstore gave Barrett a sense of relief, too. "We all suspect the store is much more about how they can sell other items or gather research," she added. Meanwhile, the indies will be over here, sticking to their vision, with an ever-greater spirit of community.