Editor’s Pick
NOVEMBER 28, 2011 5:16PM

Bookman's Alley

Rate: 25 Flag


Walk into the warmth of Bookman’s Alley on a cold, snowy day. Pull the door shut behind you. Breathe in the musty smell of literature across the centuries. Look around. Could that white bearded fellow down the aisle really be Charles Dickens?

Located at 1712 North Sherman in Evanston IL. Tucked back in an alley. In the shadows of a skyline that now calls up Batman’s Gotham City. Bookman’s Alley is a quiet tribute to how literature can make a person forget time. Because in Bookman's Alley, all you want to do is ramble down as aisle, reach up and take down a volume, some rare jewel you’ve been looking for forever, find a comfortable chair, lift the cover on the candy dish, and take out a gumdrop. Then sit, read, forget where the candy leaves off and the story in the book begins. Warm in Bookman’s Alley while it snows, time itself can vanish.

 There are places that feel like Bookman’s Alley. Shakespeare and Company in Paris comes to mind. But there is no other Bookman’s Alley.

 And come January, the store will close. Roger Carlson, 83, founded the store in 1980. He’s watched over it ever since. He says it’s time.

Perhaps he’s right.But what if he's not?

 I suppose it’s  possible for an angel investor to say to me, we want the place to carry on, it looks like you are the perfect guy to do it, I mean you even have the same first name as Mr. Carlson, so you will now be in charge of keeping alive what Roger Carlson started.

 If the impossible could happen anywhere, it would be at Bookman’s Alley.

All I know for sure is that I could be there in 30 minutes.

And I’d promise not to leave.

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Roger, thank you for this great story about Bookman's Alley! It's sad to read the store will be closing in January and another bookstore with a special feeling to it will be no more. I hope a miracle happens and someone comes along to buy it and keep it running for many more years.
Here we just had "shop small business Saturday." More are being concerned about small local merchants over the big bloody boxes.
Nice try. I hope you find you angel.
My son used to live in Evanston and I've been here. Saddened to hear it's closing...I'll hope for that miracle.
designator--How do you NOT write about great bookstores! And miracle's DO happen. . .


Jeff---Hang on, I gott a check my lottery ticket. . .

Mimetalker---You know the magic of the place

toritto--Yep. But you never know!
Roger, you had me at "the musty smell "
I am hoping for that miracle in Evanston.
Beautiful story. It is so sad when the little independent stores close. Congrats on the EP!
Very sad and beautiful at the same time. I hope your dream comes true and a miracIe happens. They do, you know?
Oh this is just too good and sound excellent in the windy city.
Sad that the independents are struggling hard to survive and many going under...
trilogy---Thanks. They do happen!

Susie--This place had a good run.

d--Oh I know!

Algis---Thanks. This morning the wind is gusting up to 60mph. . .

Patrick--I've heard talk that the Borders closure is the best thing that ever happened to independents. There really could be a revival. . .
I'm sorry to hear the store is closing. Here's hoping that angel drops down and hands you the keys. When it happens, let me know and I'll be there.
i'm so sad for the bookman's alley fans, roger. your essay is as good as it is. we still have one here in town like it, and they seem to have survived by having a second half that sells lots of tchotchkes and greeting cards and office supplies and other stuff. which is fine with me, as long as that supports the book half. thanks for this - i'm so glad it will be on the cover and maybe get some coverage.
How about a "Save Bookman's Alley" internet campaign? Your piece makes me want to save Bookmans! You might get enough for a downpayment! There is nothing in the world like an old bookstore crammed with books, old and new, a place where you can sit on the floor with a stack of books and read for hours...and that smell...yeah, that smell that no Borders or Barnes and Noble can compete with with all their sterile cleanliness. That old bookstore with the person who lives, eats, and breathes the stories found inside those thousands of treasure boxes waiting to opened. Sure sounds like a match made in heaven...hope an angel appears...'tis the season!
a fine piece of writing. I felt as though I were there as I read.
Michael--you got it!

Candace---that "1/2 and 1/2" strategy is one I've seen too. Having done a lot of retail analysis work, I can tell you that it usually doesn't work to support the other side. Borders did a lot of that. . .

JG--And if not---I still know they are out there!

Sarah--Thanks! That is exactly what I was going for.
If I had the resources I'd happily go partners with you, Roger, and buy the place. If I had the resources, I'd start my own book shop. I cannot think of a better way to spend my waning years. I'd even be friendly to mimes if they entered.
NOOOOOOO. I love this place.
Oh. I had hoped to see it again when I visit Evanston this spring.~r
Joan--Who knows. . .maybe things will change.

Miriam--Me too. Somehow that big Barnes and Noble on the corner doesn't fill the bill!

Matt--I've wanted to run a book shop as long as I can remember---so I'm with you. I might need some help in being nice to mimes though. . .but I'd be willing to learn!
Nice story. Reminded me of 84 Charing Cross Road. Not sure why. I never read the book, but I loved the film with Anne Bancroft, Anthony Hopkins and Judi Dench. ... Sad to know another bookstore is fading away. Hope an angel comes to the rescue. Wish it could be me.
You just get better and better. I wish I could visit Bookman's Alley, but your essay made me feel as though I have. Hope it survives.
I love this post -- and SO HOPE an angel investor shows up. Just last night, the authors in my neighborhood got together with the owner of our local indie bookstore and brainstormed about how to help each other. We are going to start a Ballard Author Web site/PR campaign that encourages everyone to go to Secret Garden bookstore (and have signed copies of our books there. I so hope it helps make a difference).
Deborah--That was a great book and movie. Great reminder of what we give up when we give up bookstores.

Sally--Thanks! For me, 300 words on what it feels like to love a bookstore is pure joy.

Ingrid--That conversation you had really is the seeds of the future. There is a collective of mystery writers here that call themselves "The Outfit"--one of them being Marcus Sakey, who is a personal favorite--and they are doing that too. It's working.
Roger: I believe -- with no statistical proof -- that indie bookstores are not as threatened as people fear.
The indies that have closed in my neck of the woods were, in some ways, victims of the big box phenomenon of a decade or so ago. But shutterings were also the result of age and a businessman's weariness. I know that in one case, the proprietors of a bookstore near me are enjoying a long and prosperous retirement (even if their former employees are not).
The indies that have survived around here ("upstate" New York) have carved out niches and been very sharp in their marketing schemes. Some of them have more free book-related "programs" than some libraries.
We have half a dozen new bookstores & several used bookstores within a 50-mile radius that appear to be thriving.
Meanwhile, Borders is gone and the last time I visited Barnes & Noble, it more closely resembled a toy store than a book store. "Brainiac," anyone?
I have no idea -- and I don't think anyone else does -- how e-books will affect the business of buying and selling books. At some point, indies may have to or want to seek out each other & form co-ops that allow them economies of scale, just as many mom-and-pop retailers have done in such industries as home appliances.
I'm optimistic about the indies. I'm guessing that the other Roger will find a buyer who will keep the flame from guttering out. Chicago, for all its rugged history, is full of angels, from what I hear and read.
JH--Absolutely yes. I agree that the real potential for indie stores is better than it's been in years. There is a natural torch that needs to be passed in places like this. But there is nothing here that innovative retailing (as opposed to toy store clones) can't solve. Examples are sprouting up all over the country. The potential for success is with us right now.
That picture says it all.
I hope that an angel investor will materialize. Bookman's Alley is one of the most unique and amazing bookstores I've found anywhere. I got to know it when I was in college. I don't get there as often now that I live at the other end of the city, but it's always a special experience. My new year's wish (a little early) is for Bookman's Alley to continue.
D Art---Totally
bike--No surprise to find you there!
A beautiful tribute to what sounds like an incredible bookstore! I'm so sorry it has to close...but I do hope that angel finds someone to keep it going. I think you'd be quite a worthy successor.
Alysa---Thank you. I found out today, from an impeccable source, that there is a possibility that Mr. Carlson would sell the store.
Talk about a dream. . . . .And he also knew about this piece being featured on salon.