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Seminary Co-op Bookstore Moves After 51 Years

By Sam Cholke | November 12, 2012 5:34pm

HYDE PARK — The Seminary Co-op Bookstore, a subterranean maze of books beloved by Hyde Parkers, moved out of its home of 51 years Monday.

“I was hoping we would not be closed for more than a day, but it's not realistic,” Jack Cella, manager of the bookstore, said Nov. 7.

The bookseller will remain close to campus when it reopens Nov. 18 at the newly renovated McGiffert House, 5751 S. Woodlawn Ave. The store will be closed for about a week while movers clear the books from a mile of shelf space in the basement store.

The Seminary Co-op Bookstore has called the basement of the Chicago Theological Seminary, 5757 S. University Ave., home for 51 years. The claustrophobic space is packed with tomes from floor to ceiling on hand-built bookcases in a maze of low hanging pipes and tight antechambers.

“The steam pipes in here are on 365 days a year,” Cella said. He said the new location will recreate some of the ambiance. “The pipes are still exposed — just a foot higher.”

Cella said the movers estimated it would take 650 trips up the freight elevator to move the store’s full inventory. He plans to bring a few things with him, including the wastebasket he’s had for 30 years, the metal tag from the Spencer Steel Orgoblo and the disused bellows for one of the organs in the seminary.

The staff will likely find a few tokens as the packing begins.

“Moving books once, I found a former employee's wallet that had been stolen and stripped and tucked behind a bookcase,” said Heather Ahrenholz, assistant manager for the bookstore, adding she had also found a diary behind bound archival volumes. “I read enough to identify who it belonged to.”

The current location will be converted into office and classroom space for the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics of the University of Chicago.

The university became the shop’s landlord in 2008 with the purchase of the seminary’s two buildings, both the former and future home of the bookstore. The university is footing the bill for both the renovation of the new above-ground space for the bookstore and to move all the books.

Plein Air Café, a bakery and restaurant specializing in doughnuts, will join the bookstore at the new 9,200-square-foot location.