Searching for a New Foreign Language Bookstore in Chicago

I am a walking contradiction when it comes to buying and reading books.

With most books, I browse for them online and read them on my e-reader. I don't read book jackets. I don't feel the weight of the book in my hands. I don't flip through and read the first chapter. I just click "buy" to make my selection and swipe my finger across the screen to "turn" the pages of my new literary adventure. That is true most - but not all - of the time...

For any books or magazines about another country or in another language, I need to go into the bookstore, browse the bookshelves, enjoy the photos on the covers, smile at the rows of Harry Potter books in other languages, and take in the unique atmosphere that is half bookstore, half traveler haven.

And it is hardly a cheap proposition. It was always hard for me to resist picking up an international soccer magazine my older son, a children's foreign language book for my younger son, or a guide book or travel literature title for me and/or my husband. But not any more.

The Closing of a Chicago Foreign Language Bookstore Treasure

Europa Books, formerly located on State Street in the Chicago's Gold Coast neighborhood, shuttered for good on the first day of September this year. I found out about it on Facebook (thanks, Barbara!) right before it officially closed its doors.

I was late to the game and missed the final store-closing sale. I never got to say goodbye. I never got to savor the books, the magazines, the store one last time. I was crushed. And that surprised me. How can a gal who buys most of my books online care so much about the closing of one foreign language book store and the disappearance of all of those precious soccer magazines, children's books and travel guides from the heart of the windy city?

After some deep book-shopping soul searching, I came to realize it was all about the experience, the connection, and the diversity. I know I can still go online to buy books from other countries in other languages from Europa's parent company, Schoenhof's, but that's not enough - even for a 80/20 online/offline book shopper like me. I need the real-life, real-world global experience for me, for my sons, for my family. At least when it comes to foreign language and travel books. It was my way to show my sons - and spark a dialogue about - the world, its people and its many languages in one compact, treasure-filled place.

Searching for New Options in Chicago

This fall I'm on a mission to find a new foreign language bookstore in Chicago. I know I'm still hurting, but I need to move on, play the field, explore my options. But how do I go about meeting this new bookstore that I hope to play an important role in our life?

This weekend I spent some time online searching for other options and formulating a list of bookstores to visit and explore in the weeks to come. My initial target list started out as a short one:

- J. Toguri Mercantile Co. in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood at 851 W. Belmont Ave. (specializing in Japanese books and magazines) UPDATE: The store is now closed.

- Libreria Giron in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood at 1443 W. 18th St. (specializing in Spanish-language books)

- MEP - Distribooks in Skokie at 8124 Ridgeway Ave. (distribution center for Europa's parent company; has mostly foreign-language learning books/resources and some literature books too)

Each of these stores seem to have potential, but I'm still dubious as they've got big shoes to fill. I have to see for myself.

When I was in Paris, I was impressed by the selection of French and English books at the Louvre Museum. So moved, in fact, that I had to take a picture.

But can I find a similar selection at Chicago museum gift shop? I'm hopeful that I may have some luck at the National Museum of Mexican Art, the Swedish American Museum, and the National Hellenic Museum so I've added them to the list.

Making Due at Home... For Now

I love that my youngest son loves to read Caillou books in French and humors me with my attempt to roughly translate it into English for him. My husband hasn't gotten too sick of reading the same issues of the official Manchester United magazine, Inside United, again and again with my older son. I was pleased to find the classic tale of The Little Prince in French online - thanks to Femmes Francophile. So we're making due.

I'm also using our new quest as a good excuse to visit some Chicago neighborhoods we haven't been to in a while - like Pilsen, Andersonville and Greektown - to seek out those museums and local bookstores. And, I can't wait to share our tips, finds and experiences with you.

Do you have any favorite foreign language or travel bookstores in Chicago that I need to add to my growing list? I'd welcome any suggestions... I know (or at least hope) there is another Europa out there somewhere in the windy city (and suburbs)!

Here's to world citizens!


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