Flo’s voice rang out from the phone early yesterday morning. “Your friend Jenny Fischer’s picture is on the front page of the Tribune! It’s a really big picture, too!” The photo in the Chicago Tribune accompanied a story about the success of some independent bookstores, and it opened describing the store where my longtime friend Jenny works: The Bookstore in Glen Ellyn, Ill.
The store is one of about 50 independent retail booksellers in the Chicago area. Not too long ago, all of them and the other roughly 4,000 independents across the U.S. were supposed to vaporize. By some estimates, more than 2,000 did.
But about 1,500 survived. And through a mix of obsessive attention to detail, lean inventory, an embrace of technology and resourceful salesmanship, they hang in there.
The photo shows Jenny helping a customer with a book selection, something she has enjoyed doing for years. Long before she even started at The Bookstore, I always knew to go to Jenny for a book recommendation. We met when I was 13 years old. I tagged along with a friend to a slumber party at Jenny’s. She was Jenny Foucre than, and I’ll never forget walking into their house. Her father was a handsome man with an exotic first name: Jacques. Her mother, Suzanne, was a stand-out blonde. I was mesmerized. Books were everywhere. The shelves went from floor to ceiling, packed with so many titles that the books spilled out onto end tables and countertops. “My mom loves to read,” Jenny shrugged.
As years went by I got to know Jenny’s mother and father and all the other colorful members of her family. I became especially close to Jenny’s sister Jill. The two of them stuck with me when I lost my sight. They took a 150-mile drive with their kids to visit after Gus was born – they were worried about me, and with good reason. Over the years they’ve invited me to parties, welcomed me at their kitchen tables for late night talks, and best of all: they’ve always treated me the same way they did before I lost my sight. Our children are all grown now, and when we meet these days we share a bottle of wine, catch up and talk…about books.
The Tribune article quoted some expert saying bookstores are still the most powerful way to connect a reader with a book. He also predicted that the independent bookstores that have survived the recession will continue to thrive. From the story:
That’s pretty much how Shannon Stevens perceived it one afternoon this week at The Bookstore. She and her daughter, Katherine, 4, were hanging out waiting for Dad to arrive on the train from work.
“They’ve survived because they’re responsive to their customers and the staff knows their books,” Stevens said.
Jenny arranged a book signing at The Bookstore when my memoir, Long Time, No See came out. The line was out the door. Her review of my memoir for Book Sense helped put Long Time, No See on the map. She has lugged books to countless events in Chicago and the suburbs for me to sell and sign. She drove me to Springfield to the Illinois Library Association conference when Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound debuted. She flew with me to New York City and guided me through the 2007 Book Expo at Javits.
Jenny and her sister Jill have been wonderful friends to me over the years, and I have their parents Suzanne and Jacques to thank for that. Suzanne died unexpectedly in 2009. We all miss her, but her spirit lives on through her daughters — and through their love of books. These days when people ask me if my friend Jenny still works at that little independent bookstore in Glen Ellyn, I just shrug my shoulders and say of course she does. “Jenny loves to read.”