Publishers Weekly, familiarly known in the book world as “the bible of the book business,” is a weekly magazine focused on the book publishing business. It offers feature articles and news on all aspects of the book business, and is best known service is pre-publication book reviews, publishing some 8,000 per year. Each year for the past twenty-two years, PW honors one independent bookstore as Bookstore of the Year. This year, of the eighteen bookstores nominated, five have been named as finalists. The winner will be announced during BookExpo America held in New York City at the end of May.
Women & Children First began in a modest storefront in 1979. One of the few feminist bookstores still in existence, this Chicago bookstore is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. A cornerstone in Andersonville—the northside neighborhood that is known for its diversity, queer-friendliness, and locally owned businesses—Women & Children First stocks more than 30,000 books by and about women, children’s books for all ages, and the best of lesbian and gay fiction and nonfiction. Cards, magazines, journals, calendars, and gift items like candles and pride products can also be found in the store.
Co-owners Linda Bubon and Ann Christophersen opened the store to sell only women-authored books. That said, as the interests of the community around them expanded to include a variety of different authors and subjects, Women & Children First responded to this and grew with them. Now, the store is not only a destination for lesbians and feminists, but a neighborhood bookstore as well. Customers coming through the doors will find everything from the latest Michael Pollan to the newest and most cutting-edge queer theory books. The bookstore is also known as having the best selection of children’s books in town.
The events that Women & Children First hosts each month also speak to its community engagement and diversity of customers. Well-known authors such as Jhumpa Lahiri, Jeanette Winterson, Eve Ensler, Susan Faludi, Isabel Allende, Marjane Satrapi, Barbara Kingsolver and Alice Walker have given readings at the store just in the past few years. Other celebrities such as Jane Lynch, Chelsea Handler, Annie Leibovitz and even Hillary Clinton have visited the store as well. The bookstore has also sold books at off-site events featuring authors such as Jimmy Carter and David Sedaris. Along with this, Women & Children First also supports local and first-time authors. Each month its schedule is full of big names as well as emerging authors, events tailored to the GLBTQ community, meetings of five book clubs, and a variety of events for children, including a weekly story time.
As is the case with any independent business, Women & Children First has also faced financial difficulties. To address this, the store continues to adjust its inventory to provide for its customers, as well as to continue focusing on its exemplary programming. Its monthly newsletter goes out to over 6,500 people throughout the country who support its vision and work. Similar to how the publicist of the store builds relationships with media outlets instead of just sending out press releases, the staff and co-owners of Women & Children First view their patrons not as customers, but valued friends and supporters.
In March, co-owners Linda Bubon and Ann Christophersen were interviewed by James Sobiesczyk the bookstore’s history, its spirit in Chicago and how it continues to thrive.
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