Getting back into the rhythm of opening a bookstore has been physically and mentally hard for Rebecca George. But bringing back a store that is beloved by her community made it worth it.
“I’m not as young as I was when we opened up in 2016. And it is a lot harder on my body and my brain, my sleep and everything else” she said.
Owners George and her sister, Kimberly, reopened Volumes Bookcafe, located at 1373 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Wicker Park, on September 17 after two years of closure. After their lease expired in March 2021, they decided to not renew and began the search for a permanent location. With their dedication to Wicker Park keeping them in the neighborhood, the Georges bought a storefront blocks away from their original location.
Volumes first opened in March 2016. George and her sister were both working in different levels of academia but were unsatisfied with their careers. The Georges took this opportunity to start new career paths and opened two stores in Chicago, located in Wicker Park and the Gold Coast.
While closed in 2021, Volumes’ online orders were driving sales, but the store needed help handing out orders. Melissa Grubbs, store manager of Reckless Records next to Volumes, created a space to store orders and allow people to pick them up at Reckless.
After receiving the last certification from the city, Volumes got to work reopening this past spring.
“We just needed to get open. I mean, we were like, when you get to the end there, you’re just scraping the barrel,” George said. “There’s no strategy beyond we absolutely had to be open or else.”
George said in an email that it cost around $140,000 for “putting the place together — shelves, equipment, floors and all the things.”
When entering the bookcafe, one sees book pages neatly plastered onto the wall of the sitting area. To the left is the café with a large menu on the wall, a display case filled with pastries and a large coffee maker. Turning around from the café is the bookstore, where tall white shelves are filled with books. There’s plenty of seating, especially in the children’s section at the back of the store. And next to the bookshelves are tables filled with tchotchkes; some local to Chicago, such as puzzles and notebooks.
George said she felt the physical toll of reopening, such as aching legs. However, “the learning curve is already over. I’m getting back to remembering how to do latte art. Because it’s a muscle memory,” George said.
George said Volumes’ demographics are 20-to 40-year-olds, college educated and families.
In Wicker Park, Grubbs said the community not only has independent bookstores, but also “tattoo shops and more counterculture stuff.” However, due to the rising rent rates, galleries have been leaving and “upscale shops have joined the neighborhood.”
An average sale is $24, George said. Volumes carries a variety of genres, such as nonfiction, cultural studies, memoirs, pop-science and sci-fi. They also have high sales in non-book items including greeting cards, stickers and pins.
The café has been helpful in adding revenue. George said that about three hard cover books equal 40 drinks sold in the café. “The books definitely are where the more money comes in.”
Since being open for two weeks, George said that the store is “just shy” of expected sales since reopening. The biggest expenses per month include mortgage, taxes, payroll and inventory, she said in an email.
According to this Statista study, in the United States there are 2,023 independent bookstores in 2022, which is a 44.40% increase from 2009. The Chicago Literary Hall of Fame says that Chicago has around 60 of these companies.
Lynn Mooney, co-owner of Women and Children First bookstore in Andersonville, co-runs the Chicagoland Bookstore Crawl with George and other local Chicago bookstores.
“I think there are people around the country who recognize that in Chicago, we do have one of the biggest and most dynamic indie bookstore communities in the country,” Mooney said.
George said she is glad to have Volumes back in Wicker Park, as she frequented the neighborhood when she was younger and has seen it develop.
“[Volumes] is one thing I wish was over here that I didn’t have to leave the neighborhood to go to and get that new book I really wanted. But now I have that here.”