My wonderful memories of Kroch’s & Brentano’s Bookstore in Chicago.

kroch's black and white photoGreetings 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.

11 thoughts on “My wonderful memories of Kroch’s & Brentano’s Bookstore in Chicago.

  1. This was my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE store ever, ever!!!! Got my 1st charge card from this store at age 17. Went to every branch in Chicago — downtown, Hyde Park, Evanston, etc. I cried like a baby for a long, longtime when they went out of business……the best way to spend a couple of hours [at least!]

  2. Kroch’s and Brentano’s on Wabash was the Alexander Library of bookstores. When my mom took me there for the first time is lost in th mists of time. Whenever I went to the Loop, I ALWAYS stopped in there. When I commuted from the U of I Chicago Circle, I would often stop my commute to go there. I spent so much time there I felt guilty that they did not charge me rent. I would even go there with friends. They seemed to have EVERYTHING on every topic all the time. When it closed, it was like losing a friend. Probably worse. (Sorry friends….) Borders came close afterward,
    Barnes and Noble was and still is adequate but the glory days are gone.

  3. Sorry to hear about K & B’s closure. I purchased the 4 volume set of Butler’s Lives of the Saints from them by mail order. Wanted to ask if they had the sales records. Guess not.

  4. My mother went to the downtown bookstore (Kroch’s) during my childhood to buy us books and I became a shopper when I got old enough. I then had the pleasure of working for Kroch’s & Brentano’s for 20 years at the Randolph, Oak Park, Old Orchard, and finally at the Wabash stores. I loved the staffs at each location and the customers were always great to work with. It was one of my saddest days when Kroch’s had to close its doors. I work hard to seek out independent booksellers when I want to purchase a book because I cannot enjoy reading a book on a device. There is something about the feel of the book in my hands. How I miss K&B.

  5. I remember being in Kroch’s once years ago and overhearing a comment Henry Tabor made to a customer about Carl Sandberg: “Oh, he was a phony, just like Hemingway.” It occurred to me that Mr. Tabor had very possibly met, or at least seen, both of the two in the bookstore in the years that he had worked there.

  6. I was looking for the name of the sales associate who worked in the art books on the mezzanine. Now I know. Loved, loved, love the art department. No other book store matches the one like Kroch & Brentano’s. It was the best!

  7. My mother and I would come to Chicago to visit my Grandmother and Great Aunts every year in the summer. My Great Aunt would always give me shopping money to “buy yourself something nice when you go downtown.” I would always come back with books from my shopping trip. At that time, I was very interested in Astronomy, and K & B had the best selection. My Mom and I would spend hours in the store and then I would proudly carry my heavy load of books home (on the bus), making sure none of them would get damaged. There was no place like K & B and I would eagerly wait all year for the trip downtown. I grew up at a wonderful time (a time of plenty) and am sad I can not show my children these wonderful places and things. We had it all – and K & B was part of that.

  8. I was a student at the Art Institute back then. Even though I am not black I wore my hair in an afro and Henry Tabor liked it so he posted a larger than life photo of my head on the wall of his art department. I spent nearly every penny I made on art books. Henry was wonderful. I miss him and I wish he were still with us. He was extraordinary.

  9. I have a rare book with the original Kroch’s & Brentano’s sale sticker – it looks like 9/S46 and the price of $6.95. Can you shed any light on the inventory marking?

  10. My wife and I worked at Kroch’s on Wabash for 9 years (76-85) — she was in the mail center and I was on the paperback dept sales floor. The store was just the best, and we worked with some terrific people, and being bookworms we left an unreasonable percentage of our paychecks in the store’s cash registers. Good times.

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