To celebrate Women & Children First's 40th anniversary, the store will be hosting a summer block party with a feminist slant Saturday, Aug. 24 from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on Honorary Women & Children First Way ( Farragut Ave at Clark Street ).
The celebration will feature a variety of entertainment options, children's activities and games, feminist crafts and free food and drinks from a number of Andersonville restaurants.
"When we began thinking about how we wanted to mark our anniversary, we realized very quickly that it should be a festive free thank you to our community instead of a ticketed fundraiser," said Women & Children First co-owner Sarah Hollenbeck. "The store is currently healthy and thriving because of our loyal neighbors and supporters. Our friends at Kaye Publicity, Dana Kaye and Julia Borcherts, were the ones who suggested we take it into the street."
"We did not want there to be any obstacles to everyone coming to celebrate with us and that it be family-friendly" said Women & Children First co-owner Lynn Mooney.
Hollenbeck, a bookseller at the store, and Mooney, who was then store manager, took ownership of the store in Oct. 2013 when the founders and then-owners Linda Bubon and Ann Christophersen decided to retire.
In November 1979, Bubon and Christophersen joined forces to create a space where women could find books, magazines and music that spoke to them; it was also intended to be welcoming place for families, especially those with children. The store's first location was in Lincoln Park at 922 W. Armitage Ave.; five years later they moved three blocks away to 1967 N. Halsted St. before settling at their current Andersonville location in 1990.
"We also wanted to be a gathering place where all kinds of women felt welcome, comfortable, and able to talk openly and safely about their ideas, experiences, love, pain and the changes they wanted to see and make in the world," said Christophersen. "We also wanted it to be a place where women and feminist men could discover or sharpen their politics and find the issues and organizations best-suited to their activism."
"We wanted a place where we could be in charge of what we wanted to sell," said Bubon. "Nurturing women writers and finding and supporting women writers was a key thing for us. If we were to grow, more women had to write and get published."
Bubon and Christophersen have hosted thousands of events for authors including Maya Angelou, Dorothy Allison, Adrienne Rich, Gloria Steinem, Alice Munro, Alison Bechdel, Margaret Atwood, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sapphire, Jhumpa Lahiri, Carol Anshaw, Dorothy Roberts and Sara Paretsky, among others.
When asked what her favorite moments were, Christophersen said there were many but one that stands out was their friends helping them put the bookstore together before it opened, a shared community endeavor that has characterized the store ever since.
"They pounded nails into bookshelves, constructed the sales counter, hung the vertical sign projecting out from over our front door, and, in the eleventh hour, brought us a cash register to use for making sales," said Christophersen. "The LGBTQ, literary, feminist and broader political community then carried us forward."
Both Bubon and Christophersen praised their staff members, whom they call brilliant and talented, and the supportive customers who kept them in business.
"It has never been just about the owners, but all the great readers who have shared their love of books throughout the years," said Bubon. "Our sales representatives have also been amazing, educating us and listening to our demands for more diversity in kids' books and better representation for marginalized writers."
When Christophersen and Bubon started the store, they never imagined it would be one of the largest feminist bookstores in the United States. They were a part of an international endeavor called The Women in Print Movement, which included women's bookstores, publishing houses, printing presses and writers. Christopherson said the movement was focused on expressing women's lives and providing children's books that pushed beyond the gender, racial and traditional family stereotypes of the time.
"Women's bookstores across the countryindeed, around the worldvaried in terms of size and the materials we carried, but we all shared essentially the same mission: supporting women in all their diversity and adding our voices to an all-inclusive feminist movement," said Christophersen.
Upon Christophersen and Bubon's retirement, they announced the store would be sold. Hollenbeck and Mooney put a proposal together with the hopes that they would be chosen to purchase it. Mooney said there were proposals from other people so it was never a given that they would become the owners.
"We knew we likely did not have the deepest pockets of those in the running, but Ann and Linda knew us and knew we were committed to the store and to its mission," said Mooney. "Between [the two of] us we had a lot of relevant experience, but we also brought fresh perspectives, especially about the direction that feminism was moving and how to renew its relevance."
Since taking ownership, Hollenbeck and Mooney have continued having author events and other activities at the store.
"I'm still a little in shock that only a handful of months after buying the store, I was standing next to Linda in front of 1,200 people introducing Gloria Steinem and Roxane Gay," said Hollenbeck.
"I strongly believe that the Andersonville neighborhood is one of our most important communities in Chicago," added Mooney, who sits on the board of the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce. "There are so many smart, creative, entrepreneurial business owners in Andersonville and I learn something every time I attend a meeting or training. We are extremely lucky to be part of this neighborhoodwe benefit from the vibrant mix of businesses and the strong foot traffic."
Hollenbeck said the most important thing for her was to make the store more visible both in the neighborhood and across Chicago.
"When Lynn and I bought the store, we talked to a lot of different audiences and were dismayed to hear how the store was still shrouded in mystery for a lot of folks who could be customers if they only walked through our door," said Hollenbeck.
One of the first things they did was rearrange the store to make it more inviting. They also did outreach to a new generation of feminists to tell them the store had an intersectional feminist mission that was transgender-inclusive and gender expansive.
"We made an effort to reach out and support communities of color through expanded events, programming, activism and fundraising," said Hollenbeck. "Ann and Linda were already doing this work, but we were able to 'demystify' our name and amplify our mission through our redesign and renovation, our use of social media, [and] expanded outreach and programming."
Both Bubon and Christophersen told Windy City Times that it means everything to them that Women & Children First is still thriving and celebrating 40 years in business.
"I cannot imagine two women better suited to own and manage Women & Children First and take herwith great vitality, enthusiasm and skillinto the future," said Christophersen. "I am grateful for what they have kept, awed by what they have added, and have taken my rest in seeing their strong and ongoing commitment to the bookstore."
"I have continued to work at the store for the past 5 years, and I am thrilled at its growth, its commitments and its vision for the future," said Bubon. "Ann and I could not have chosen better people to be at the helm."
In addition to the block party, the store is set to host a midnight release party for The Testaments by Margaret Atwood Monday, Sept. 9; a conversation and book signing with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Wed., Sept. 11, at Senn High School Auditorium; Ann Patchett on Monday, Oct. 21; Jeanette Winterson on Thursday, Oct. 24; Carmen Maria Machado on Friday, Nov. 8; Rebecca Traister on Sunday, Nov. 10; and Lindy West on Tuesday, Nov. 12.
For more information, see WomenAndChildrenFirst.com .
Block Party Schedule:
Co-emceed by local activist and organizer Sameena Mustafa and comedian Shannon Noll, we'll have mainstage entertainment featuring:
11 a.m. - Welcome!
11:30 a.m. - Drag Queen Story Hour with Muffy Fishbasket
12:15 p.m. - Laura Doherty Kids' Music
1 p.m. - ShaZah - Singers and storytellers Shanta Nurullah and Zahra Baker
2 p.m. - Artemis Singers
3 p.m. - She's Crafty - Chicago's All-female Beastie Boys Tribute Band
4 p.m. - The Clamor & Lace Noise Brigade - Chicago's all-female & nonbinary glam brass marching band!
4:30 p.m. - Toast to the store with co-founders ( Ann Christophersen and Linda Bubon ) and current co-owners ( Sarah Hollenbeck and Lynn Mooney )
... and more!
Beyond the mainstage, we'll have tents with:
Kids' Activities & Games face-painting, sidewalk chalk, coloring sheets, "Smash the Patriarchy" Giant Jenga, Giant Connect Four "The Squad" Edition, and more!
Craftivism Our neighboring business RAYGUN will be providing radical screen printing on postcards and patches! We'll also be making a community mural on the theme of "What Women & Children First means to me."
Story of the Store Inside the bookstore, we'll have video tributes, a scrapbook commemorating the store's "storied" history, a Lego version of Women & Children First, and more!
Mini "Taste of Andersonville" Free food and drinks from our favorite neighborhood restaurants:
The Coffee Studio
Meeting House Tavern
Middle East Bakery
... and more!