One of the best ways to get a sense of a place is to visit its independent bookshop. Quimby’s in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago is no exception. Specializing in graphic novels, handmade zines, unusual books, and special events, it’s the bookish equivalent of a Chicago-style hot dog.
Wicker Park used to be a little grungier, a bit more ‘downtown.’ But even though there are plenty of Sunday brunch spots and boutiques on the street, Quimby’s remains an outpost of the offbeat. The store’s press materials proudly declare, ‘We favor the unusual, the aberrant, the saucy, and the lowbrow.’ Tattooed owner Eric Kirsammer says, ‘We’re not trying to be the bookstore for everybody.’
For almost 30 years, it’s been just the right bookshop for the right kind of person.
If you’re looking for a zine about poutine or a coffee table book of Russian prison tattoos, Quimby’s has got you covered. The titles on their shelves are the kind of thing you pick up not because you need to, but because they’re the exact right thing when all that’s on your to-do list is an immersive read.
The vast majority of the zines in the shop are sold on consignment, so Quimby’s has become a hub of independent producers to share their work. They’re like blogs that have been summoned into the real world, covering topics like why pizza is awesome, coffee and creativity, a how-to on habit tracking, and tips to live your best Goth life. You’ll also find handmade at comics, like one of our favorites (and Ignatz-Award winning) Phase 7 by Alec Longstreth. Hand-drawn and hand-bound, these are tangible artifacts of creativity and human connection.
The shop is an equal-opportunity vendor and will sell just about anything ‘as long as it’s bound so it won’t fall apart on the shelf.’
The traditionally published books, however, are carefully curated by the Quimby’s staff, and they’re equally eclectic. This is not the place to stop in for the latest best-seller. Instead, you’ll find the comic book cookbook Let’s Make Ramen, a history of lady pirates, a chronicle of shocking and bizarre deaths of performers; unusual short story collections, and a wide selection of graphic novels, including titles from Chicagoan Chris Ware.
This is a place to browse and enjoy happy surprises. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of finding a book you didn’t know you needed until you saw it on the shelf.
In addition to traditional readings and signings with authors, the shop hosts special events that combine book-love with hands-on activities, like the Zlumber Party (a.k.a., Zine Slumber Party) that had dozens of pajama-clad writers and artists spend a Saturday night — all night — in the shop making zines. Quimby’s also teamed up with the Museum of Contemporary Art for a Cabinet of Curiosities event that featured mini ‘un-lectures’ on a variety of topics.
Fun fact: A second branch of Quimby’s opened in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in 2016.
As is fitting, Quimby’s has somewhat funky hours, and they’re open late for special events, so visit the Quimby’s Bookstore web site before you head out the door.
Want to keep up with our book-related adventures? Sign up for our newsletter!
Strong Sense of Place is a website and podcast dedicated to literary travel and books we love. Reading good books increases empathy. Empathy is good for all of us and the amazing world we inhabit.
This is a weekly email. If you'd like a quick alert whenever we update our blog, subscribe here.
We'll share enough detail to help you decide if a book is for you, but we'll never ruin plot twists or give away the ending.
This 30-page 2020 Reading Atlas takes you around the world with dozens of excellent books and gorgeous travel photos. Get your free copy when you subscribe to our newsletter.
Content on this site is © 2020 by Smudge Publishing, unless otherwise noted. Peace be with you, person who reads the small type.