(Photography by William Sewell)

Still the Co-op

The new store might not be as quirky, but it will have better temperature control.

It’s hot in the Seminary Co-op on a Thursday morning in June, but I can feel a cool breeze from a low ceiling vent. “I just turned on the air,” says store manager Jack Cella, X’73. Pressing his hands on one of the Co-op’s signature blue steam pipes, he explains that they are always on—all day, every day. He’s looking forward, he says, to being “in a location that has better temperature control.”

This fall the Co-op moves to McGiffert House on Woodlawn Avenue, as the University revamps the Chicago Theological Seminary building to house the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics. Many customers are mourning the cozy space. “It’s the best academic bookstore in the world,” says William Sewell, the Frank P. Hixon distinguished service professor emeritus of history and political science. “The way you keep up with the latest intellectual trends is you go in there twice a month and scan the tables.”

For several months Sewell photographed the quirky, winding space—similar to a project Megan Doherty, AM’05, PhD’10, and Jasmine Kwong, AB’06, have undertaken. “It’s probably a good thing on the whole that they’re moving,” Sewell says, “but I think everyone will miss the space. It’s like you’re walking into a secret catacombs.”

Cella, who’s worked there more than 40 years, is ready to rise above ground, to not worry about power during a storm, to not spend hours unclogging window wells, to not step over customers squatting to see the bottom shelf. “This space has served us well,” he says, “but the reason for the Co-op’s success has been the great neighborhood and the customers.”

The new store’s architect, Stanley Tigerman—a Co-op member since 1991—“asked a lot of people what they find valuable about the Co-op” and what they don’t, Cella says. “We’ll be able to replicate the feeling of being surrounded by books.” But it will be an airier surrounding.