Thursday, November 17, 2011

Final Chapter for Bookman's Alley

While browsing around in one of my favorite used bookstores I learned that a completely different bookstore will soon be closing out here and I was shocked. I gasped and said, "No!" and later the owner came over to me to fill me in.

Bookman's Alley, a store in Evanston, IL, and one of the most unique used bookstores I have ever set foot in among the hundreds I've visited across the United States, will be closing its doors in January. The owner, Roger Carlson, is one of the grand old bookman of days gone by. I had many brief conversations with him about my esoteric tastes in genre fiction and I've heard many interesting conversations from his numerous, highly informed book collecting customers in the many many hours over the past twenty years I have been frequenting his store. I can easily estimate that one third of my personal mystery library came from the shelves of Bookman's Alley. I've also used his store as a resource for customers in search of hard to find books when I was selling more often than I do these days. I've bought and resold some of Roger's books as well. It's part of the business, after all.

For those of you who have never visited Chicago and never seen Bookman's Alley (and now probably never will be able to) here are a few photographs.  Because the store is so unique it has been photographed repeatedly and shows up on blogs all over the internet. Sometimes people can't believe that all of the books are for sale. I've heard first time visitors remark that it resembles a museum or an antique store more than a book store.

The Fiction & Literature Section. Through the archway is History. To the left of the wall with the framed pictures is ... MYSTERY!

Art, Science, Music sections and I believe a few shelves with a variety of Animal books.
Out of camera range is the Children's section with a huge collection of amazing 1st edition and later printing Oz books
The rear of the store with a variety of rare works of Fiction (mostly multi volume sets), Native American books, more History, Biography and (as you might guess from all the model ships) Nautical books

Roger Carlson, at home in the front of the store. Behind him
(left & right) are the rare books which I could never afford.
I was really upset when I heard the news that this fine store - truly a cornerstone of downtown Evanston - will soon be gone for good. Book hunting will never be the same for me in the Chicago area now. It's a sad time for used bookstores all over the country, but a damn shame for us out here in Chicago.

Thanks to Roger Carlson for this fantastic store which has been operating since the early 1980s. Thanks also to his son (whose name I never learned), and the other men who have often helped out in the place while Roger was recuperating from a recent illness. I had a blast in your store, bought some great books and enjoyed knowing you while the store was open. To say that you will be sorely missed is the greatest understatement I have ever written.

Bookman's Alley is located in the alleyway between Benson Avenue and Sherman Avenue ("1712 Sherman Ave., Rear" is the exact address) in Evanston, Illinois.  The store is holding a 30% off sale this month and continuing through December until all books are gone.  The store closes in January 2012.


  1. This is sad indeed. The store seems fascinating.

  2. Oh, man. That store is laid out a lot like the Caveat Emptor here in Bloomington used to be. It was in an old house on Dunn Street with all kinds of shelves and nooks and crannies to search in. The Caveat is still in business (fortunately)-- but was moved into a standard downtown shop with no character. It's just not the same.

    Knowing that you bought so many of your mysteries at Bookman's Alley makes me want to hop in the car and try to find it....

  3. Sad. Another one gone. Remember: without eternal vigilance, it can happen here.

  4. John: You pass on sad news. I was not sure from the post what caused the closure. Is that information available?

  5. This is so sad. I wish I had been able to visit it once.

  6. Bill--

    From the Chicago Sun-Times article:

    “I’m not dead,” said Mr. Carlson, 83, from Whitehall nursing home in Deerfield, where he is recovering from his accident. “I’m not even dying. But circumstances dictate I say goodbye to the bookshop.”

    He had a car accident which I was unaware of until I heard of it from the other bookstore owner. Then I found out the rest of the news from the newspaper. I'm going to visit the store on Saturday.

  7. That's the kind of place you'd like to just pick up and take home, lock stock and barrel. So inviting, comfortable and of course all those books. Sigh. Sad news indeed.

  8. Looks and sounds absolutely wonderful - makes me even sadder that I've never made it to Chicago. Thanks for the great pix.


  9. This is devastating. There is not a book store, at least that I know of, that even compares. I really wish someone would buy this place so we can continue to cherish what Roger built. Are there really no takers? Or is he not selling? I am very lucky to have frequented the store and meet Roger.

  10. Aimee-

    His son says no one is interested. The word among the rest of the bookselling word confirms this. The closest bookstore that compares in quality from an antiquarian bookselling standpoint is in Hyde Park - O'Gara & Wilson - way too far for me now that I live in Rogers Park. But I've shopped out his mystery section (the only antiquarian books I buy these days). O'Gara & Wilson rarely has as much turnover in crime and genre fiction as Roger's store did.

  11. Updated information: the store will be open through the month of March 2012. Stop by for a visit...

  12. Leslie Hindman Auctioneers will offer Bookman's Alley autograph collection at auction April 4th!