Inside 57th Street Books in June 2008. (Photography by Supafly, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Save (at) the Seminary Co-op

The Seminary Co-op Bookstores need your help. You need books. Problem solved.

Stop. Before you do anything else, read this. Or skim this Cliff’s Notes version:

In a letter to members, director Jeff Deutsch writes that the Seminary Co-op has “a six-figure annual operating deficit.” Why? Because it stocks books that are not that profitable. Single copies of books that might sit on the shelf for a while, taking up space that could be filled by the latest blockbuster. “From a purely profit-driven perspective,” Deutsch writes, “we stock books we ‘shouldn’t.’”

It’s the best time of the year. To paraphrase Full Metal Jacket, it’s like the Fourth of July, Christmas, and New Year all rolled into one, and every book nerd in Chicago—and beyond—will be flocking to the Seminary Co-op and 57th Street Books for the annual member sale. And this year we get the extended remix version: the sale runs the entire month of June.

Inside 57th Street Books in May 2016. (Photography by Joy Olivia Miller)

At this point, I’ve spent a frightening chunk of my life in these two stores. Fifty-seventh Street Books is where I saw a Native American woman count coup on Ian Frazier for writing On the Rez. It’s where, after another reading, I overheard David Foster Wallace (or maybe it was Rick Moody) counseling someone not to go for their MFA.

In the mid-’90s, when I was in my late 20s, it’s where I ran into an older alum bringing his two young sons into the store—a trek (topped off with dinner at the Med) he said they made whenever his wife was out of town. Though kids were the furthest thing from my mind at the time, that sounded like the best thing ever. Twenty years later, I now bring my son and daughter down a few times a year (though they prefer Five Guys to the Med).

Inefficiency has its place. In raising children, in most artistic endeavors, and in bookselling, a modicum of inefficiency is in order.

Back in junior high, my friends and I waited in line on opening day to catch The Empire Strikes Back and Blade Runner and Tron. Fifteen years later, having fallen in with a wild crowd—English grad students—I found myself standing outside the Sem Co-op waiting for the doors to open at 8:30 so we could have first crack at that year’s member sale before heading to work and class. If getting kids to school in the morning were not an issue now, I probably would have been outside the doors this year to start scooping up the items on my list. As it is, I just have to hope no one else grabs that centenary edition of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Daniel Clowes’s Patience before I get there at lunchtime.

We need your help. … What does this mean? It’s very simple: buy a book and convince others to do the same. If every current member bought one additional book from us this year and then convinced a friend, family member or colleague to do the same, we would double our sales and nearly eliminate our operating deficit.

Shopping at the Sem Co-op is always a guilt-free, one-for-me-one-for-the-greater-good kind of transaction. During the member sale, the equation tips slightly more in my—and your—favor.

Maybe I’ll see you there.