For a quarter-century, Lakeview's Unabridged Books has specialized in selling well-known and obscure gay and lesbian literature. ( However, the store also has everything else from children's books to the great classics. ) The achievement of being around for so long is even more astounding when one considers the explosive growth of larger chains; said growth has lead to the disappearance or relocation of many smaller bookstores.
Recently, owner Ed Devereaux—who has been with Unabridged since the beginning—sat with Windy City Times and talked about what life has been like for the past 25 years.
Although the store's official anniversary was Nov. 1, the celebration will not take place until March. ( 'That's a good time to take a breather,' Devereaux said. )
Windy City Times: You've been in the same location for all this time. Does that strike you as a bit unusual?
Ed Devereaux: Well, it doesn't because I think we had a bit of good luck back then. Of course, when you open a store the three most important things are location, location, location—and I think the timing and the location came together. In 1980, the gay neighborhood was south of here ( at Clark, Diversey and Broadway ) and [ He Who Eats ] Mud was the only gay store north of Belmont. This area was the extreme edge of the gay neighborhood. The bars were just starting to open on Halsted. It turned out to be a great location and the neighborhood just grew around us.
WCT: Well, that brings up something interesting because people are saying that the gay neighborhoods are moving north. If that happens, do you see Unabridged moving?
ED: I think we're staying here because we're pretty much anchored here. [ Laughs. ] I'm just not going to open a new store anytime soon. Clark Street would be a great [ location ] for a bookstore—but Women & Children First is already there and I wouldn't want to compete against them.
Although people are moving north, Boystown is still the center of gay nightlife, at least, and gay businesses. People still travel here all the time—and they'll check us out because we're still here. Gays may move away but they're still our market.
WCT: Why did you start Unabridged?
ED: I accidentally got a job in a bookstore in college. [ Laughs. ] It literally started there and my love of books took over. I finished my degree and got a job as a systems analyst—but I didn't like it. However, I still had this love of bookselling—but at the same time there was this need for a store that had gay literature.
I had been working at Barbara's ( when it was on Broadway by Surf and Oakdale ) . The gay section was two shelves above the women's section—and I managed to get a whole wall section of gay books. ( That was a big move back then. ) When I opened this store, I thought I would concentrate on my area of expertise.
WCT: Do you think there will always be a need for a store such as yours—or do you think that larger stores will eventually incorporate LGBT literature into the mainstream?
ED: I think there'll be a great need for our store. I think the difference between our store and a general store is that we make gay books our specialty. I obviously pay special attention to our gay section and I think that's what differentiates us from the larger stores: the time and attention we spend on gay books. Larger stores might carry a big new gay novel from a mainstream publisher—but are they going to carry all the small books?
The playing field between [ larger and smaller bookstores ] isn't always equal. Chain stores don't usually pick a neighborhood because there are no bookstores; they usually do it [ out of competition ] . Why do you need a Barnes & Noble and a Borders on the same corner?
I try not to come to work thinking that I need to compete against the chains. Sometimes we like to think of ourselves as a thorn in their sides. I wonder if they ever think that. We're certainly not threatened by them—although we're certainly aware of them. [ Laughs. ]
WCT: What are the easiest and hardest aspects of running a bookstore?
ED: For me, I dislike everything related to operations. People say, 'I'd love to work in a bookstore. You can just sit and read all day'—as if we open the door, sit down and start reading while waiting for customers to come in. We work really hard in setting up the store. The day-to-day stuff can get kind of tedious, but that's part of running a business.
The nicest thing is the access to books. We're surrounded by books, we talk about books—and I absolutely love to read.
WCT: Who are your favorite writers?
ED: Right now, my favorite is Ian McEwan ( Saturday ) ; his books are smart without being overly intellectual. I also like Nick Hornby ( About a Boy ) ; he's very funny and smart. I think I like British writers.
I tend not to read someone too much, because you're always trying to sell the newest thing. So I've read one book from one author, one from another and [ so on ] . What I'm trying to do—but not too successfully—is go through a list of classics. However, sometimes I feel like my time is so valuable that I should be reading books that I can sell.
WCT: Does Unabridged have a Web site?
ED: No, we don't. We're working on a site just to have a presence.
We don't ever plan on selling books online; it's such a difficult thing to do. To keep the site updated is much work. Our mission is to stay a bricks-and-mortar store and to have a personal presence. However, we'll have a site so people can see what we sell. I'm older and a little old-fashioned. [ Laughs. ] I don't even have a cell phone; I don't want to be connected.
WCT: With everything you've been through, what have you learned about yourself?
ED: I learned that I could do it—that I could own and manage. This is like a dream come true for me. I never knew that I would still be here and that the store would be successful. I never got into the business to make money—but it was shock to discover that you can make a little while running a bookstore.
WCT: So there'll be no other Unabridged stores?
ED: I've thought about it from time to time. To be honest, when you're 27 [ when Devereaux opened the store ] you have a lot of energy. Now, opening a new store would be a lot of work. I'll leave that for some younger whippersnapper.
Unabridged Books is located at 3251 N. Broadway. Call ( 773 ) 883-9119.