Outside the O’Gara and Wilson’s former home on 57th Street. (Photography by John Lodder, CC BY 2.0)
The end of a chapter for one Hyde Park bookstore.
It’s a Hyde Park institution. Saul Bellow, X’39, is said to have once called it the best bookstore in America. After more than 100 years of serving the University and Hyde Park, O’Gara and Wilson is closing its doors to begin a new chapter in Chesterton, Indiana. There are many bookstores in Hyde Park, but to me O’Gara and Wilson felt different. Maybe it was the subtitle “antiquarian booksellers” on the sign outside the shop, or the scarf-wearing stuffed goose just inside the door. Sure, the Seminary Co-op had its subterranean labyrinth, Powell’s its impressive collection of used books, and 57th Street Books its selection of popular literature. But O’Gara and Wilson, similar to some of the older buildings on campus, felt like a place steeped in history. The interior was all warm, worn wooden shelves lined with an eminently curated selection of books. This wasn’t a place you would come to buy a textbook; this was a place you would come to find a book with a story beyond what was written in the pages. A few years ago I picked up an old, tattered copy of Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man. I found the book in a cart of clearance items, a collection of ragged books seemingly unfit to share the same shelves with the rest of the offerings in the store. Ray Bradbury had been a favorite of author of mine for some time, so when I discovered this copy of his work I was immediately drawn to it. The dog-eared book suggested previous lives with other owners, and the prospect of adding to that history was too tempting to resist (as was the very cheap price). That’s what I loved about O’Gara and Wilson: many times I would just go in and browse the shelves, never intent on purchasing anything but instead to just pick up a book occasionally and thumb through the pages, taking in both the text and the materiality of the book. It was so easy to spend hours lost in the silent space of the bookstore, shelves towering high above, muffling all sound from the street outside.
[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"836","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"588","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"460"}}]] (Photography by Eric Green, ’14)
The store’s story began in 1882 with the first of a series of successive shops, eventually purchased by Joseph O’Gara. The Wilson was added later, when Doug Wilson, having begun as an book scout and later an apprentice to O’Gara, finally became a partner in the store. As the sole current owner, Wilson has no apprentice to pass on his business to. Citing increasing economic pressures, he has decided to move the store and its 16 tons of books closer to his home in northwest Indiana. Visiting O’Gara and Wilson a few days before they closed didn’t give the impression of an imminent move; other than a 25 percent off moving sale sign and some boxes, it was business as usual. Most of the books were still on the shelves, and a few patrons browsed the shelves. O’Gara and Wilson Antiquarian Booksellers closed this past Sunday. I imagine that last day was much like the many that preceded it. Customers passed in and out, and, at the end of the day, the front door was locked and the lights turned out. The store will reopen in Chesterton, Indiana, in August.