Walking into Open Books, Chicago's not-for-profit bookstore, you
are immediately struck by how welcoming the space is. Books are
everywhere, on low, well-lit shelves painted in every color of the
rainbow. Nooks with comfortable chairs and seating are scattered
all over the store, encouraging browsing.
Open Books is working to improve literacy rates in Chicago and
make sure low-income homes have books to enjoy. The bookstore
offers 50,000 books for sale, 10,000 of which are children's
"This was my dream and a challenge," says Kevin Elliott, the
bookstore manager. "We didn't want this to be your typical
bookstore. We make sure our stock will appeal to everyone."
The store offers regular storytimes and book discussions as well
as special events co-sponsored by organizations such as the
Neighborhood Parents Network, Wishcraft, More Than Milk and the
Emerald City Theater Company. This month features a Day of Dr.
Seuss, noon-4 p.m. March 3, with storytimes, the Cat in the Hat,
face painting and other events.
But the store is only one component of Open Books' mission.
Upstairs you find colorful classrooms, with large windows and a
creative atmosphere that helps to fuel the many volunteer-staffed
"In our ReadThenWrite program, students read a book and
then write a story in the same vein as the book," says
Lizzy Boden, bookstore coordinator. "Then we collect the
stories and format them into a book, which is published online
through Lulu and each student is given a copy. Many of these
students don't have books in their homes. Think of the impact of
having a book in your house that you helped to write and has your
name in it."
While shopping and supporting Open Books through buying books is
important, "book donations make all the difference in the world. We
don't just sell every book we get, we give books away to our
students, and organizations can apply for book grants through our
website," Boden says.
Elliott says all book donations are tax deductible.
Collecting books for a book drive is a perfect service project
for scouts or school and youth groups. Or families can stop by and
bring a bag of gently used books to donate and then look for new
things to read on the shelves.
Stacy Meyer was thrilled when her son David chose to organize a
book drive as his bar mitzvah project. "I loved it that Open Books
is such a self-supporting organization. The response from the staff
when we brought the books brought tears to my eyes," Meyer
David, an avid reader, says people donated nearly 1,300
"It meant that other people cared just as much as I did about
reading," he says.
Meyer says Open Books makes it easy for a family to help. And
Boden says she enjoys meeting the customers.
"Being able to do something I love for a good cause is super
fulfilling," Boden says. "I was part of the first volunteer group
and then I just didn't want to leave. To see how it's changed and
grown and regular customers and volunteers, that's just one of the
things that makes this place so amazing."
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