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.