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Jeweler Offers History Lesson with Your Earrings

By Thom Rae | November 6, 2012 3:58pm

CLEARING — Dianne Johnson’s store might be the only place you can buy diamonds as well as a book about Chicago ghosts.

Her 45-year-old business, Midway Jewelry, for the past nine years has doubled as a bookstore specializing in Chicago history.

It all started with one book in particular: “Chicago’s Midway Airport: The First Seventy-Five Years,” which was given to Johnson by a friend in 2003. A Clearing native, Johnson always loved the history of the community and nearby airport. Her shop, at 5635 W. 63rd St., is just east of the airport.

“I didn’t want to put it down,” Johnson said.

Figuring her store’s customers would like the book as much as she did, she called Sharon Woodhouse of Lake Claremont Press, the book’s publisher.

“I had to talk her into selling me 100 copies,” Johnson said.

Woodhouse said she had never before (or since) received an order from a jewelry store. She waited for Johnson’s check to clear before shipping the books.

Once Johnson received the books, they flew out the door.

“In four days, I sold every copy,” she said.

Johnson immediately ordered 100 more and, two weeks later, another 100. More orders followed. Woodhouse no longer waited for Johnson's checks to clear.

The book’s author, Christopher Lynch, was so impressed he paid a personal visit to thank Johnson. Like Woodhouse, he was “flabbergasted” by her ability to sell books in a jewelry store.

“If it wasn’t for Dianne, I don’t think my books would reach people in the neighborhood,” Lynch said.

The nearest conventional bookstore is at the airport itself, located on a concourse that can only be accessed by ticketed passengers. (It doesn't carry either of his books, Lynch said.)

Lynch’s second book, “When Hollywood Landed at Midway Airport,” chronicles 50 years of celebrities coming and going through the airport that once was known as “The Crossroads of the World.” It was released in March, also by Lake Claremont Press, which specializes in Chicago history, culture and lore.

Today, Midway Jewelry stocks about two-dozen of the small publisher’s titles on a shelf directly behind its sales counter, which holds the usual array of watches, rings and pendants.

Four books about Chicago’s haunted sites and ghosts are quite popular, Johnson said.

So, just how many books has she sold in the past nine years?

“Definitely thousands,” Woodhouse said.

Lynn Casey, a retired Chicago police officer who resides in the adjacent Garfield Ridge community, said she has purchased several books as gifts for friends and neighbors who have moved away.

Casey said she has been a loyal customer for years because Johnson offers a level of personalized service that can't be found at a big-box retailer. She even had Johnson engrave her handcuffs.

“You walk in the door as a customer and, by the time you walk out, you’re a friend,” Casey said.