ANDERSONVILLE — Visiting Andersonville Thursday afternoon for the first time "in at least 20 years," Maureen Holtz wandered into Women & Children First, an independent bookstore with a feminist focus.
The former Andersonville resident, now living in Champaign, called the store "a great gathering spot" that hosts author readings and community events, and said that regardless of the proliferation of digital books, "It's important to always have a place where people can come in and wander," and buy a good book.
Owners Linda Bubon and Ann Christopherson, nearing retirement age, have been looking since October for somebody to take the Andersonville staple off of their hands — but demand that any buyers keep the business as independent as it's been since it opened in 1979, and maintain its feminist focus.
Christopherson, 64, said this week that the two stipulations hasn't hurt prospective buyers' interest in the shop at 5233 N. Clark St.
"The people who have been most interested are people who want the store to continue as it is," she said.
About 20 people have reached out to the owners and inquired about the store, which Christopherson said the owners are in no rush to sell.
"We don't have a timeline, we're more interested in finding the right buyer," Christopherson said.
The iconic store is one of the country's largest feminist bookstores.
Unlike many independent bookstores, Women & Children First has survived the rise of book superstores, the economic downturn and the increasing popularity of digital books.
It opened in Lincoln Park in 1979 and moved to Andersonville in 1990.
The co-owners were both academics studying English literature who passed on doctorate degrees and teaching to instead open a bookstore that would make "a useful contribution to the world of books and to the feminist movement," Christopherson said.
The store stocks more than 30,000 books "by and about women, children's books for all ages, and the best of lesbian and gay fiction and nonfiction," according to its website. Christopherson said the business is doing fine and that the decision to sell it has more to do with her and Bubon's retirement plans than finances.
Beth Gaby, a 67-year-old Uptown resident, has been coming to the store for 30 years, since it was in Lincoln Park. She was shocked to hear that the store could be changing ownership, but was happy the current owners are taking steps to ensure it stays independent and keeps its focus.
"I wouldn't want it to be changed by somebody who came in — people come in and change things all the time, and things lose their essence," she said in the store on Thursday.
Holtz, the Champaign resident who wandered into Women & Children First while on a trip to see museums in Chicago, said the store is charming and "because you never know what you're going to find."
"Independent book stores are very important because they're more willing to take a chance on little-known writers," said Holtz, who has written three books and was excited Thursday after coming across "Paris Was a Woman," a profile of Paris' female literati in the 1920s written by Andrea Weiss.