Bookstore Spotlight: Bookends & Beginnings

A darling little independent bookstore — with an incredible selection — just opened up in downtown Evanston, Chicago. The name of this charming place? Bookends & Beginnings.
Brown bag || Bookends & Beginnings

Occupying the space of the famous, and now former, “Bookman’s Alley,” Bookends & Beginnings is co-owned by Nina Barrett and Jeffrey Garrett, both of whom have a background in libraries. You’ll see bits of their personalities, interests, and professional achievements sprinkled throughout the store.


There’s a selection of beautiful fountain pens, for instance (Jeff is always poised to provide a flourish), and a cookbook section that reflects Nina’s celebrated career as a two-time James Beard award-winning food journalist for her witty and insightful radio show “Fear of Frying.”

Among the treasures in the cooking section are autographed copies of Chicago legend Ina Pinkney’s Taste Memories: Recipes for Life and Breakfast, in addition to unique cookbooks that can usually only be found in the UK, including Viennese Kitchen and Curries, the latter of which is edited by Gina Steer.
Ina Pinkney’s Taste Memories: Recipes for Life and Breakfast || Bookends & Beginnings
Viennese Kitchen || Bookends & Beginnings
Any newly-opened bookstore faces its share of skepticism and criticism, but Barrett and Garrett are taking it all in stride. In fact, they argue that Bookends & Beginnings provides a unique experience, one that is becoming harder and harder to find in contemporary America. As Jeff explains,

We have been inspired by Ray Oldenburg and his concept of third places. In his book “The Great Good Place”, Oldenburg talks about bookstores, taverns, and libraries as third places — not home, not work, but places where people gather. Starting about 50 years ago, these kinds of places began disappearing in America as people moved out of cities and into the suburbs to gain expensive privacy. But what this overlooked was community. In America, neighbors don’t even know each other.

The fact is that a bookstore should be a place for community. For this reason, we have designed Bookends & Beginnings with a lot of open spaces, with a large amount and wide variety of seating. The hope is that people will come here to mingle and talk about books — or whatever they want! In a way, what we are doing is fostering a surrogate conversation.

Bookends & Beginnings certainly feels like a place where you can have a conversation. With its cozy lighting, relaxed atmosphere, and beautiful, slightly rustic aesthetic, it’s not hard to imagine getting lost here for an hour or more — I know I did.
Full shot of bookstore || Bookends & Beginnings

Blue Pendant

John Updike/bookshelf || Bookends & Beginnings
Even though Bookends & Beginnings is, at heart, a commercial enterprise, it doesn’t feel that way when you enter the store. Part of that is because each book has been individually considered, curated, and placed on the shelf by librarians with a keen understanding of the importance of display. It’s less about the volume of books sold than it is about ensuring that everyone who comes through the door leaves with a book that is right for them. Hence the handwritten descriptions — “shelf talkers” — that pepper the fiction section.
"Shelf Talkers" || Bookends & Beginnings

Something else that makes Bookends & Beginnings extraordinary is that you’ll find not only brand-new books, but also used books, signed first editions, and remaindered books sprinkled throughout the store. Remaindered books, for those of us unschooled in bookseller terminology, are books that have never left the warehouse. Publishers calculate how many copies of a given book they expect to sell, and eventually, paying to store the excess books in a warehouse exceeds the revenue that could be generated through their sale. There is an entire industry that specializes in remaindered books, and while individuals are not allowed to buy them directly, bookstores can.

As Jeff Garrett explained,

We treat new books, used books, and remaindered books equally. They are all books. The main thing is to provide our community and customers with the best selection available. We want to get everything out there that we possibly can to fit everybody’s budget.

We believe that people buy books because they really want the books, and they don’t care if a book is used, remaindered, or brand-new.

Thus my ability to snag a beautiful $5 edition of The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, a remaindered treasure!

Something else that you won’t find in Barnes & Noble, or anywhere else for that matter, is an astonishing collection of international children’s literature housed in an adorable, animal-filled space.
Noah's Ark || Bookends & Beginnings

Children's corner

Children's books || Bookends & Beginnings
Jeff’s illustrious background in children’s literature, which includes his stint as editor of Bookbird: An International Journal of Children’s Literature, his three-year term as the President of the Hans Christian Andersen Award jury, and the numerous articles he has written about the genre, gives him an edge in selecting and acquiring outstanding titles. Among the books soon to hit the shelves are several by Roger Mello, the 2014 Hans Christian Andersen Award-winning illustrator from Brazil, and “Omma majung,” about a little boy growing up in Seoul, South Korea. I was particularly impressed by the Spanish section, which is already larger than any I’ve previously encountered. And Glenda the Giraffe keeps her eye on the entire collection.


Of course, Bookends & Beginnings is also replete with bookish gifts appropriate for everyone from your grandmother to your brother to your significant other. A line of colorful jewelry, sourced from Die Kunstwerkstatt Berlin, cannot be purchased anywhere else in the United States. Elegantly designed book boxes fill an entire table, and a rainbow-colored shelf of leather-bound notebooks livens up the area next to the checkout counter. As for me, I have my eye on a gorgeous edition of The Lord of the Rings.
Jewelry from Die Kunstwerkstatt Berlin || Bookends & Beginnings
Book boxes: Bookends & Beginnings
Leather-bound journals || Bookends & Beginnings
I certainly hope that you find an opportunity to immerse yourself in the wonderfulness of Bookends & Beginnings. I know that I’ll be returning very soon.
The Heart of the Place by Mollie Katzen || Bookends & Beginnings

Bookmarks & Bell

Bookends & Beginnings

1712 Sherman Ave, Alley 1 (behind Saville Flowers)
Evanston, IL
(Purple line to Davis stop)


Tuesday – Saturday, 10 am to 7 pm
Sundays 12 – 5 pm

Phone: 224-999-7722

For additional information, visit their witty and frequently-updated Facebook page.

All photos by G. 

28 thoughts on “Bookstore Spotlight: Bookends & Beginnings

  1. Oh my gosh, this place looks amazing. I think the most important element of bookshops is allowing your customers to feel comfortable and free to browse and discover something they can cherish forever. (That’s always been my preferred method of bookselling, anyway!) I think in today’s difficult retail climate, which is particularly difficult for bookshops, some people can feel the pressure to sell and be a bit pushy. But it sounds like this place has got it just right! Thanks for sharing Alina, and beautiful photos too! 🙂

    1. Thank you, Anna! I will tell the photographer that you liked his photos 🙂 And I absolutely know what you mean about pushy salespeople. There are some shops that I avoid (Office Max, Gap, and any cell phone store ever) purely because I know that I’m going to feel accosted the moment I walk in! Buying books is such a personal thing that it can be very difficult to attempt to “sell” a book to someone. I think it’s one of those things that people have to figure out on their own!

  2. Every time I read your blogs and your reviews, I feel like reading a magazine! The pictures are magazine-worthy, and I just can’t get my eyes off reading your reviews. It looks like you are suited to be a book sale businesswoman yourself, eh?

    1. Thank you, Rommel!! Oh my goodness, your comment made me so happy. I would LOVE to own a bookstore, yes! Though lately I’ve been daydreaming about starting a small, independent publishing company that would only release extremely high-quality (mostly fiction) books. We’ll see 🙂

  3. What a great post! This sounds like a wonderful store and I love the name – it sounds so hopeful and optimistic. We have an indy store a few miles away but it doesn’t have the same charm. Oh well, not complaining though. I’m just happy we still have bookstores! It’s encouraging to know that people are still opening bookstores and I bet there is a new and greater need now for that cozy community experience the owner was talking about, now that so many have gone under.

    1. Yes, I love the name of the bookstore, too! It’s cute, charming, and alliterative, without being corny. I know that a lot of people my age (I say that because it’s probably not as accurate if I talk about other generations — I can feel the generation gap between myself and my sister, who’s just five years younger!) still LOVE physical books and will never, ever, ever resort to reading something on a Kindle/e-reader of some sort. I’m hoping that cozy, local bookstores will go the way of vinyl records, which were supposed to disappear decades ago when they were rendered obsolete by tapes, CDs, and now digitally downloaded music. People are still attached to the old formats & all of the meanings they carry.

  4. That is def. a very charming bookstore! It reminds me of the ones in you see in the movies, very warm and inviting oppose to some of the modern looking style book stores.

    1. Yes, I don’t mind modern-looking stores, but I think that type of decor/atmosphere is better suited for clothing shops and restaurants. The day we visited Bookends & Beginnings was quite a stormy one, and it was definitely very cozy to be inside with all those books while the rain was coming down! 🙂

  5. Oh, I would go if I lived closer! What a wonderful space for the mind and soul. I love how cozy it feels, even though it’s a commercial enterprise like you said. I love to hunker down in bookstores, especially independent ones, breathing in the old dusty books and reading the jackets of the new ones. When I have a hard week at work, I go to the bookstore on the weekend to recuperate. 🙂

    1. That sounds like such a lovely way to spend your weekends, Ngan 🙂 I’m glad you have a few independent bookstores nearby where you can seek out refuge. I saw soooo many books at Bookends & Beginnings that I want to read, it’s going to be quite dangerous! haha

  6. What a cool store. Luckily, here in the Boston area we’ve also had a few indie bookshops like this opening in recent years. In today’s world, it just makes you want to cry in gratitude!

  7. What a nice store. I love those lights! Except for the lower feelings and the accompanying cozier atmosphere, it reminds me a bit of our bookstore Book People.

  8. I built the majority of my book collection through used book stores and Indies. I used to spend hours searching for books, buying stacks of them at 2-3 bucks a book. I love book stores and it’s always nice to see new ones opening when the trend seems to be closings.

    1. Good for you! I wish I could say the same about my book collection. Unfortunately, when I was a student in college, I didn’t have the time to track down the books I needed for my classes. Amazon was convenient and cheap. But now that I have control again over the books I want to spend my time reading, I’m really getting back into buying used paperbacks!

  9. I’m definitely jealous — this place looks amazing. In our area, first we lost our indies, then we started losing the chain stores — it’s a pretty sad situation. It’s heartening to know people are still opening up new indie bookstores. The cookbook section and children’s area would be the first places I’d check out :).

    1. Aww Jama, I’m sorry to hear that. In a big city like Chicago, it’s possible for a few independent bookstores to make it, but I think it’s harder if you live in a less populated area. And I know that you would make a beeline for the children’s section 🙂 It really is too cute with the 6-foot tall giraffe, oversized stuffed sheep, and giant bunny!

  10. I agree that bookshops are special places. I like that you aren’t accosted by staff in these places, just allowed to wander and get lost in reading. The atmosphere is important too, like you say with the lighting. The best ones feel like cosy libraries, but with the promise that you can part with some cash and take something home forever! We should support our bookshops/stores – crucially our independent ones – and not get seduced by the illusory ‘convenience’ of the online retailers.

    1. Absolutely! You said it perfectly. I know all too well how easy it is to order books from Amazon (I did it a lot as a college student), but the thing is, when I buy a book in-person, I can remember the experience, too. I can tell you which books I purchased at Half-Price Books in San Antonio, the strange novel about the Black Plague that I picked up at a bookstore hidden in a building’s basement, and the deals I snagged at Market Fresh Books. I think it has helped me to value those books that much more, because they didn’t just drop down out of some online void & land on my doorstep in a brown package. Instead, I had to actively seek them out.

Share your thoughts below.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s