Women & Children First co-owners Linda Bubon ( left ) and Ann Christophersen. Photo by Ross Forman. Linda Bubon accepting the Lesbian Community Cancer Project award presented to the bookstore in February. Photo by Kat Fitzgerald
The bookstore isn't just for books, of course. There are magazines, CDs, magnets, jewelry and more. Women & Children First, a popular Andersonville anchor, has been in business for almost 28 years, and since 1990 it has been at 5233 N. Clark.
'You'll see books here that you won't see anywhere else,' said co-owner Linda Bubon. 'I think people often are surprised with what they find when they come inside the store; [ there's such a ] variety, including books, magazines, cards, videos, etc.'
The books' subjects range from spirituality to psychology to pregnancy to politics to cooking. People can also order any item they don't see in the bookstore—including textbooks.
'People don't know perhaps the breadth of our stock. They may well find things that they don't expect to,' said co-owner Ann Christophersen. 'Our identity has shifted a bit since moving to Andersonville. We still are a specialty—a feminist store. We carry a lot of books by and about women in a depth and breadth that you just won't find at other general bookstores. But, since moving to this location, we're functioning more as a neighborhood bookstore and Women & Children First doesn't quite capture that fact. It just shows our focus, but not our entire store.'
Underscoring that statement is the fact that the store's customer base is about 40 percent men. W&CF has a diverse stock of books, including some sports titles that, no doubt, would appeal to male consumers.
W&CF also has a deep selection of contemporary politics and loads of fiction titles.
'We certainly have a lot of male customers these days. Heck, there are times when there are only male [ customers ] in the store, and that wasn't the case in the early days,' Christophersen said. 'Our male customer-base has risen significantly over the years because we carry a very diverse selection of books.'
The staff at W&CF includes two full-timers, including Bubon, as well as six part-timers. The staff is knowledgeable, helpful and friendly.
One thing that has affected independent bookstores over the past few years is a decline in sales—and W&CF is no exception. 'At the end of the 1990s, we were at a good place [ financially ] ,' Bubon said. 'We maintained [ that level ] for the first few years [ of the 2000s ] , but the last three years have been a downward trend in sales.'
One factor hurting sales at W&CF is competition, of course. Borders Books & Music, for instance, has four locations—all within four miles of W&CF. The Internet is also a significant factor because it's made book-shopping simple and cheaper, especially for those who know exactly what they want. 'It's extremely hard to compete with [ the Internet ] ,' Bubon said.
W&CF was one of the first Chicago-area bookstores to sell online, and it still does.
'We're working as smartly and operating as smartly as, frankly, we know how to,' Christophersen said. 'We have done everything we can think of to cut our operating costs, including my salary.'
Things have gotten so bad at W&CF that both confirm the store must now plan month-to-month, not long-term. And the possibility that W&CF might close before the end of the summer is very real, they confirmed.
'What it ultimately comes down to is: whether people in the community, and the city as a whole, decide it matters enough that we exist and then make their shopping decisions based on that,' Christophersen said. 'We want people's support, and we need it now. By that we mean, that they buy their books here.
'What we offer that none of the Internet sites offer is: an actual place where people can look at books they may be interested in, see other people, and hear book suggestions.'
W&CF hosts regular author speaking and signing events, mostly for lesbian writers. The store also features a handy bulletin board, loaded with local information.
'Good bookstores just seem like an important part, an important space in community life,' Christophersen said. Unfortunately, about 70 percent of independent bookstores have closed in the last 15 years, Bubon said.
W&CF still hosts about 30 or 40 children every Wednesday morning for a free storytelling that has been going on for the past 20 years.
'This reminds me of the early days, when we were really struggling. It's really hard like that again. Hopefully things will turn around, because they have to if we are to stay in business,' Christophersen said.
Originally from: Western suburbs of Chicago; now resides in: Chicago, for the past 22 years
Also: Is a storyteller
Book suggestions: The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart; Waiting For Daisy, by Peggy Orenstein; The New Yorkers, by Cathleen Schine
Originally from: Northwest Indiana
Chicago: Since 1970
Book suggestions: Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; Grace, by Anne Lamott; Writing in an Age of Silence, by Sara Paretsky
Women & Children First, 5233 N. Clark, ( 773 ) 769-9299, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.womenandchildrenfirst.com, Parking Available, Wheelchair Accessible.