Greetings everyone! Today I will be writing about my memories of Kroch’s & Brentano’s Bookstore in Chicago. Its official motto was hailed as “the world’s largest bookstore.”Once located at 29 South Wabash Ave, the bookstore was one of the most desired destinations in The Chicago Loop. Opened on November 22, 1954, the store was a treasure trove of first-edition books, paperbacks, calendars, and maps. Its art department was famously well-known in Chicago and other cities in The United States.
My earliest memories of visiting Kroch’s were in the late 70s when I was in high school. I first walked into the bookstore and was instantly mesmerized. The distinct sections of published books there were endless, they had everything. When I was employed at City Hall for a couple of years in the mid-80s, I went there frequently during my lunch hour. As a classic TV fan, I was looking forward to what books were released every week. I purchased several books over the years, and I nonetheless retain some of them. The magazine section was one of my favorites to browse. It provided a vast selection of periodicals published in the U.S. and from other countries in the world. I purchased a couple of Greek magazines when there were in stock, headed home, and handed them to my mother to read.
Kroch’s & Brentano’s was a prominent place for book signings for authors, athletes, national and local celebrities. Whenever a public figure typically had a book signing, the place would be jam-packed all the time and sometimes the direct line would be outside the door. The art department which was located at the mezzanine was run by a man named Henry Tabor. He was like an encyclopedia of the art world. I used to see him all the time, but I never spoke to him. I wish I had. Another memorable department was the mail-order center that tracked down obscure out-of-print titles for customers around the world. I used to go there all the time and the staff constantly acquired a book that I requested.
The dedicated staff at the bookstore maintained the most intriguing people there. Their extensive knowledge of certain specific topics was indeed flawless. The most famous floor of the bookstore was, of course, the lower level. I fondly remember that stairwell which to me, looked very unique. As you entered downstairs, you envisioned like you entered in another bookstore. It had paperbacks, greeting cards, cliff notes and I reasonably believe textbooks. Continuous rows of cashiers were there banging keys on cash registers with distinctive sounds of tintinnabulation from them. It was beautiful. Also in the bookstore in stock were, tote bags, coffee mugs, catalogs, chess sets, backgammon games, and the beautifully designed bookmarks on display at the checkout lines. The lower level of the bookstore was also called, “Super Book Mart”.
The bookstore was founded by Adolph Kroch in 1907. It occupied several locations in Chicago before moving to 29 S Wabash Ave in 1954. His son Carl Kroch took over the store and merged the Brentano name and the rest was history. The funny thing that I recalled while I was browsing at the store was there were chairs to sit down. You would stand reading a magazine or portions of a published book. Not like today, where Barnes & Noble and Borders Bookstores had chairs and coffee shops. That was non-existent during the Kroch’s & Brentano’s days. Kroch’s closed its doors on July 31, 1995, and shuttered all its stores in the Chicagoland area. I was terribly sad about this. I went to Borders frequently until all its bookstores closed down in 2011. I go to Barnes & Nobles now and then, but it isn’t the same. I definitely don’t want the bookstores to close indefinitely. I love to browse and hate reading eBooks on a tablet. I want a physical book to read. On my Vanished Chicagoland Facebook page, Kroch’s is still one of the most missed places in Chicago. My followers sincerely wish it could come back. We will see. Thank you. Pete Kastanes-Admin for Vanished Chicagoland Facebook Page.