When gay couple Bill Fletcher and Don Moss moved from suburban Seattle to a 100-plus-year-old house in Oak Park, Illinois, six months ago, they brought thousands of books with them.
There were so many books the couple had to rent a storage space but they wanted to do moreso they decided to open a specialty used bookstore, Jake's Place Books, at 142 Harrison St. in the Oak Park Arts District.
"At first, I had no idea we were going to open a bookstore but I walked past an open storefront in our neighborhood and the light dawned," said Fletcher. "Jake was my first dog as an adult, a yellow Labrador, and I had done some online sales years ago and used that name. We like it because it sounds friendly and gets the dog's name in there."
One of the features of the bookstore is its policy of giving away two children's books each to every kid who comes into the shop, with Fletcher telling Windy City Times the couple's goal is to get kids to read and what better way than giving them free books. Moss explained that, recently, young adult books have been donated to the store and they are now giving one book away to anyone who wants them.
"It is important that the store have a mission beyond sales," said Fletcher. "I do not know that everyone has access as easily as we may think. Plus, we love having kids in the store. It stirs things up."
They have also gone beyond the store and donated pop-up books to Edward K. Duke Ellington Elementary School in Oak Park and are planning on more of these endeavors in the future.
Fletcher explained that they moved to Oak Park because, unlike the Seattle area, it was easier to get around without driving. Moss said they wanted to live in the Chicago area because of its diversity, theater options, good food and variety of public-transportation options.
The couple met through an online dating service and had their first date at a Starbucks in Carnation, Washington, five years ago. They have been together ever since and were married at their home in Carnation in 2015.
Moss was born and raised in Brooklyn, and got his bachelor's degree in English at the University of Rochester and medical degree from the University of Rochester Medical School. He did his psychiatry residency at Yale University.
"After my residency, I entered the Air Force during the Vietnam War and served at a base in Colorado," said Moss. "Later on, I became the director of mental health services at the University of Maryland and did that job for 20 years. I retired from that post to move to Washington state where I lived for two decades."
While living in Washington, Moss was a psychiatry consultant for a group of psychologists and social workers for three years before retiring fully from medicine.
"Although medicine was my career, I was always interested in teaching and reading and wanted to share my love of that with others so the bookstore is the culmination of the dream," said Moss.
Fletcher was born and raised in Rochester, New York. He got his bachelor's degree in social sciences from Emmanuel College in Boston. Fletcher later went to Vanderbilt University to get his master's degree in sociology. He taught for five years at Nashville's Belmont University and worked as the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic director of healthcare analytics for three years before moving to the Seattle area.
Currently, Fletcher works as the director of performance and quality improvement at the Roman Catholic children's institution Maryville Academy in Des Plaines, Illinois. Maryville helps children who have experience any form of trauma.
Fletcher explained that because of his work at Maryville he has become more aware of the need for early learning and that includes literacy skills. This was another reason for them wanting to give books away to kids who come to their store.
Both Fletcher and Moss said the most interesting and surprising thing they have found since moving to the Chicago area is how friendly everyone is.
"The weather has not been as bad as I was led to believe it would be," said Moss.
"Some people are maniac drivers, which I love because of living in Boston for a time," said Fletcher.
Fletcher said he is very happy to be running the bookstore with Moss and encourages film and theater lovers to come check out their selection of books on those topics.
See www.jakesplacebooks.com/ .