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Ravenswood Used Books to Start New Chapter With Move to Montrose Avenue

By Patty Wetli | March 14, 2014 6:48am
 The bookstore is moving from Lincoln Square to bigger digs at Montrose and Damen avenues.
Ravenswood Used Books on the Move
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LINCOLN SQUARE — Think your last move was a nightmare?

Try packing up 30,000 books.

As Ravenswood Used Books prepares to pull up stakes at 4626 N. Lincoln Ave. by the end of the month and resettle in larger digs at 2005 W. Montrose Ave., shop owner Jim Mall said, "It won't be hard to leave, but it will be extremely difficult to move."

To make the transition to Montrose slightly easier, the store is offering 25 percent off books sold in March.

"We really need to get rid of some stock," said Jessica Schrock, the bookstore's manager.

After operating on a month-to-month lease "for many years," Mall finally decided to search for a new home for his operation, a Lincoln Square fixture since 2000. Neighboring tenant La Bocca Della Verita also recently vacated the building, which, along with the Davis Theater, is owned by Tom Fencl, who declined to comment about plans for the building.

A New Chapter for Ravenswood Used Books
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DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

The bookstore's Montrose location, next to the home goods shop Neighborly, is nearly double the square footage of its current quarters — 1,000 square feet compared with 600.

"We won't bring in twice as many books," said Mall, who lives in Uptown. "We're going to create something we never had before — a little seating area" that also can accommodate speakers or performers, events being one way he and Schrock hope to counter the loss of Lincoln Square foot traffic.

Aside from that relatively minor change, customers will find little difference between the old bookstore and the new.

Mall still has no intention of carrying romance novels or what he terms "blockbuster best-selling authors" like Tom Clancy.

"People who are crazy for James Patterson buy them the day they come out," he said.

Where the shop has earned its reputation is in its selection of literary titles — "authors popular with the elite reader set" — and rarities, which attract bargain hunters and collectors alike.

Favorites of Mall's include "The Education of Henry Adams," published in 1918, as well as the works of literary critic and essayist Edmund Wilson.

"I like to keep his books about," Mall said of Wilson. "His fans always express surprise and delight to find his books."

Though Ravenswood Used Books is situated just a block from Lincoln Square's Book Cellar, Schrock said the two serve a complementary clientele.

"There's not a culture of competition," she said. "We send customers each other's way."

There are some authors whose works book lovers seldom let go of, Mall said, naming Haruki Murakami, Charles Bukowski and David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest" as among those hard to find on the used market.

The shopkeeper knows what he's talking about: "I've got a thousand books at home I'm never going to get rid of."

On the other hand, "We have old books that have been out of print for years and years," he said. "Nothing thrills me more than to have a customer, after an hour, come to the counter and say, 'I've been looking for this book for 25 years.' I have those books, they're just waiting for the right customer."

A native of Pittsburgh, Mall moved to Chicago in 1978. He spent more than 25 years as an antiques dealer and was among the several shop owners clustered along Halsted Street in Boystown during the 1980s.

"They're all gone now — the market's dead," he said. "Ebay took over."

Mall specialized in arts & crafts and mid-century modern antiques, which, as the periods gained in popularity, became a "staple of reproduction," he said.

"People who just wanted the look could get it a J.C. Penney," Mall said.

The bookstore started out as a warehouse for Mall's antiques.

"I hung out and pretended it was a shop," he said. "Here I was sitting around, and some of the stuff included books."

Prodded by a friend to turn the books into his primary business, Mall gradually shifted gears. As each piece of furniture sold, he'd bring in a bookcase.

"Finally, all of the antiques were gone," he said.

Though it wasn't his original calling, the role of bookseller suits Mall.

"I love the smell of books in the morning," he joked, but then added in all seriousness, "They're part of my life. I take great comfort from their presence."

Four years ago, he was joined by Schrock, a Southern transplant who brought a sense of fun and order to the shop.

A lit major who started out as a part-time employee while attending grad school, Schrock said her studies eventually fell by the wayside.

"It wasn't as much fun as working at the bookstore," she said.

Mall credits Schrock for developing a color-coded system of organizing the shop's mazelike assemblage of titles.

"She has an almost photographic memory," he said of his assistant. "This is her playhouse."

The pair intend to recreate the labyrinthine arrangement of stacks at the new shop, where customers can continue to lose themselves in the familiar cubbies and crannies.

"There's a huge community of people who love the feel of a book in their hands. They love to root through things," Mall said. "Here you don't know what you're looking for until you find it."