K – Kroch’s and Brentano’s – Paying Tribute

WELCOME to the letter K and to this year’s theme: BOOKSHOPS

I grew up with books and many of them were brought home by my father from Kroch’s and Brentano’s, the largest bookstore in Chicago and at one time the largest privately owned bookstore chain in the United States. Though closed in 1995, it remains an important part of Chicago’s book history and also to the little girl within me who read and cherished Treasure Island, Black Beauty, Misty of Chincqutee.I want to pay tribute to Kroch’s because they introduced to the bookstore world an amazing template that to this day is used.

Adolph Kroch, an Austrian immigrant to Chicago, first founded a German-language bookstore in 1907 and later bought out Brentano’s bookstore and merged them into Kroch’s & Brentano’s. Adolph Kroch’s son, Carl Kroch, later took over the business, at a large location on South Wabash Avenue pictured above. Carl Kroch set out to create a new kind of bookstore: light, airy, and comfortable. He realized the selling power of book jackets, so he designed special shelves that tilted to display the books’ full covers, not just their spines. He believed in a partnership between publishers and booksellers, and when his colleague Richard L. Simon, co-founder of Simon & Schuster, told him about a new idea he had for book pricing, Kroch encouraged him to give it a try. Simon recognized that toothpaste selling for 79 cents appeared to be a bargain in comparison to 80-cent toothpaste. He priced his company’s books at $4.95, $7.95, and $14.95 that remains the standard industry practice.

Kroch’s and Brentano’s was said to have the finest selection of art books in the region, and its sales clerks were recognized for their vast knowledge on the subject. One such individual was Henry Tabor, who ran the art department.  The flagship store at 29 S. Wabash had several distinct departments including one run by Alice (Morimoto) Goda which was a mail order center that tracked down obscure out-of-print titles for customers around the world. The store frequently exhibited noted painters’ and photographers’ work on the walls and regularly hosted book signings by major authors. In writing my 2nd novel, Facing East, I honored this flagship store with several scenes worked into the story in thanksgiving for the childhood books purchased at the store. The last of the stores finally closed July 31, 1995.

About Stepheny Forgue Houghtlin

Stepheny Forgue Houghtlin grew up in Evanston, IL. and is a graduate of the University of Kentucky. She is an author of two novels: The Greening of a Heart and Facing East. She lives, writes and gardens in NC. Visit her: Stephenyhoughtlin.com
This entry was posted in Ato Z Blog Challenge 2018 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to K – Kroch’s and Brentano’s – Paying Tribute

  1. Every now and then I think it would be fun to own a shop. When I see an empty store in town, I like to imagine if it would be the perfect place for my pretend bookstore. I would’ve loved exploring this Chicago bookstore. Sounds like Heaven to me. 🙂

  2. Jean Davis says:

    Great theme. I still visit the small bookstore that I went to as a kid.

  3. Sorry this place of your childhood memories closed. I enjoyed your post today. Visiting from
    If I Only Had A Time Machine

    • I loved being able to honor the store in a second novel where I worked some of the same research for this post into the novel. How surprised my father would be that these long ago memories of the books he brought me have lasted a lifetime.

  4. My childhood bookstore has closed long ago. It was Greenwood’s Bookshop in Castlereagh Street Sydney. My father and I visited once or twice a year and all my childhood books came from there.

  5. That’s a really interesting factoid about book pricing. It’s strange how much psychology goes into what we perceive as a good price.

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