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.