Happy birthday, dear Sandmeyer’s

That’s the hub of our ‘hood.

Our neighborhood independent bookstore is celebrating its 30th anniversary in style — Sandmeyer’s Bookstore is throwing a party Wednesday night at Jazz Showcase, right down the street. Ulrich and Ellen Sandmeyer wanted a few local authors to speak while Harry and the Hit Men (a terrific cover band they’re flying in from the Bay Area – their son RalphRolf plays guitar and sings vocals) sets up, and I was honored to be asked. Of course I said yes — Sandmeyer’s is one of the things that attracted us to this Printer’s Row neighborhood in the first place.

When Mike and I decided to move to Chicago back in 2003, we looked for a neighborhood that would be friendly, safe, and easy for my Seeing Eye dog Hanni and me to navigate. That’s how we found Printers Row.

Printers Row is a tiny neighborhood in Chicago just south of the Loop. The buildings in our neighborhood were originally used by printing and publishing businesses.
Before electricity, printers used natural light to check their work, so the windows in neighborhood buildings are tall and wide. You know, to let light in. The ceilings are high, too, to accommodate old printing presses. The neighborhood went the wrong way for a long time, and many of the lovely old buildings were marked for demolition in the 70s and 80s. Thanks to some stubborn preservationists, the visionary architect Harry Weese, and pioneering folks who were willing to homestead in Printers Row, the neighborhood was not lost, but found. Two of those homesteaders were the Sandmeyers, who opened their book store long before Printers Row was a sure bet. Today, most of the buildings that were in peril in Printers Row have been converted into residential lofts. There’s always a lot of activity up and down the street, so I feel safe. When I’m walking around with my new Seeing Eye dog Whitney, I feel like people are looking out for me.

Printers Row is close enough to the Loop that Whitney can walk me to my part-time job downtown at Easter Seals Headquarters and the weekly writing class I teach for senior citizens at the Chicago Cultural Center. It also turned out to be the ideal place for an author to promote a book.

Sandmeyer’s displayed copies of my memoir Long Time, No See in the window the day we moved into Printer’s Row, and I have a feeling that half my royalties stem from Ulrich and Ellen Sandmeyer handselling it to the customers who wandered in. Four years later, Ulrich Sandmeyer called me at home the minute copies of “Hanni and Beth: Safe and Sound” landed at the bookstore’s doorstep.

Mike and I ran right down to admire the box load. One book had already sold by the time we got there – a neighbor had seen Ulrich pulling a copy out of the box and insisted on buying it right away.

“There’s not another book like it,” Ulrich said, marveling at the illustrations inside. “It’s going to sell very, very well.” To that end, Ulrich immediately placed one copy of Safe & Sound in the front display window.

As excellent as Ulrich and Ellen are when it comes to promoting local authors, they are even better when it comes to promoting literacy. We have two wise owners cutting through all the hundreds of thousands of titles out there, and thanks to their intelligent ordering, and good reading, we can easily find books at Sandmeyer’s that we really want to read. Happy birthday, dear Sandmeyer’s. And now…let’s dance!

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19 Responses to “Happy birthday, dear Sandmeyer’s”


  1. 1 S. Bradley Gillaugh May 15, 2012 at 1:02 am

    So glad to read your blog about Sandmeyer’s. And with a nice photo of the facade. It (and Hackney’s) are a big part of what makes the Printers Row area so special. I try to buy almost all my books there. If they don’t have it, Ellen or Ulrich order it. Now that they also live down here, the bookstore seems even more part of the neighborhood fabric.

    See you at the party.

    (By the way, it’s Rolf, not Ralph, who is featured with Harry and The Hit Men.)

    • 2 bethfinke May 15, 2012 at 6:53 am

      Ah, yes. Rolf. Thanks for catching that, Brad –I made the correction in the post. Now, put on your dancing shoes, and we’ll meet you at Jazz Showcase!

  2. 3 Lauren Bishop-Weidner May 15, 2012 at 4:59 am

    Long live the feisty independent bookstore, wherever she resides!

  3. 5 Benita May 15, 2012 at 7:43 am

    Thanks for taking me to Sandmeyer’s all those years ago, when my niece, Mia, was a baby. I too am an appreciater of independent bookstores. I order from them rather than from Amazon.
    Happy Anniversary Despite All the Odds to Ellen and Ulrich!

  4. 7 italianhandful May 15, 2012 at 7:55 am

    What an insider’s look at a great book store! I have always loved this bookstore, first experiencing Sandmeyers at the Printers Row Book Fair. 30 years, quite a testamonial to the independent spirit and vision of the owners.

    • 8 bethfinke May 15, 2012 at 4:06 pm

      Here’s another insidder’s view: if you experienced Sandmeyer’s at the Printer’s Row Book Fair, you probably met Ellen’s mother Florence –she comes in every year for the book fair and sits outside to help promote books by local authors –like me

  5. 9 Kim May 15, 2012 at 10:59 am

    You are so right. There is nothing better than an independent bookstore, with real books to flip through, personalized book recommendations, signings and readings, book club discounts, cozy chairs. You made me want to check out Sandmeyer’s. I’m glad Printer’s Row has survived and thrived.

  6. 10 bethfinke May 15, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    Me, too, Kim. And lucky you, living near Nashville where Ann Patchett’s independent bookstore just opened –it’s called Parnissus, is that right?

    • 11 Kim May 15, 2012 at 5:35 pm

      Yes, check out their website and AP’s blog at parnassusbooks.net. In Greek mythology, Parnassus was the mountain where the muses lived. It’s an acknowledgement of Nashville’s stunning, full sized replica of the Parthenon.

      Parnassus sports a piano, which I thought was for parties and book signings. Then, while browsing one morning, a talented customer began playing and singing. By the end of the song, everyone was singing along. The cashier said that it happens all the time, impromptu flash mobs who know the tune and most of the words. In Nashville we have singing book signings.

      • 12 bethfinke May 15, 2012 at 5:45 pm

        Sold. Next vacation? Nashville!

      • 13 Kim May 16, 2012 at 9:37 am

        A friend reminded me that Nashville is also known as “the Athens of the South” (we don’t know why). If you do visit Nashville, check out the Bluebird Cafe, bluebirdcafe.com, the best live music venue in Nashville.

  7. 14 Carl May 15, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    I am envious. All of the independent bookstores in our town have closed. What is Sandmeyer’s secret, I wonder?

  8. 15 Maria May 15, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    The next time I visit Chicago, and I will someday, on my list of things to do will be visiting Sandmeyers and Printers’ Row. It sounds like you live in a really cool area of Chicago. I love bookstores like Sandmeyers….there are so few of them left in my area and the ones that are left, are a bit of a distance. Happy Birthday, Sandmeyers….and many, many more!

  9. 16 Jacqueline May 16, 2012 at 7:04 am

    I love that store! Thanks for introducing me to it.

    • 17 bethfinke May 16, 2012 at 8:04 am

      My pleasure, Jacqueline. And just think — you were a flegeling author back then – now you’re a rock star! (To my blog followers: Jacqueline Houtman writes “sciency fiction” for kids and is the author of an award-winning middle grade novel called “The Reinvention of Edison Thomas” – you can order it from Sandmeyer’s!)

  10. 18 Annelore May 16, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    Sandmeyers – ahhh! I do love that store and Ulrich several years ago, handed me “Long Time no See’ when I asked about you. Thanks for nudging me back and yes…. Happy Birthday, Sandmeyers!!!!!


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