Credit: Facebook/Herloom Books

EDGEWATER — In opening Heirloom Books, Chelsea Carr Rectanus created a community, a place where people could come and hold weighty discussions or hear from prospective politicians.

But that community was abruptly upended last week. Rectanus, 32, died “peacefully but unexpectedly” Aug. 7 of a long-standing illness she battled, Earl Rectanus, Chelsea’s father, said on Heirloom’s Facebook page.

Now Rectanus’ friends and family are working to ensure what she created in Edgewater continues on, and serves as a testament to her impact on the neighborhood.

“It’s more than a book shop,” said Emily Carter Alexander, Rectanus’ friend. “It’s a place anyone can go. I was [at Heirloom] Monday, and it was hard not to see Chelsea bopping around and being her quirky, happy self.”

A virtual memorial will be held at 1 p.m. Aug. 23 and will be open to the public. For more information, click here.

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Rectanus opened Heirloom Books, 6239 N. Clark St., in April 2017. She’s originally from Florida but moved to the area to study at Northwestern University.

Rectanus was working at North Side restaurants when she decided to try something new and pursue her love of literature, she said in a short documentary about Heirloom produced by Twilight City Studios.

“You gotta make those decisions, just to try,” Rectanus said. “So you can say later on in life, ‘I tried. It didn’t work out. But I gave it a go.’” 

Alexander watched her friend turn Heirloom into a “fantastic” used book store, a warm and welcoming place where hanging out and discussing literature or current events were encouraged.

Rectanus made sure her business was inclusive, and the business would champion social justice and other political causes. A campaign meet-and-greet Rectanus organized for former mayoral candidate Amara Enyia was documented in a Chicago Reader cartoon.

“Every time we went in, it felt a little more magical,” Alexander said. “I don’t think that the shop was financially viable and I don’t think she cared. She liked people coming in to her space and talking with other people.”

Rectanus’ untimely death has left her loved ones reeling and left her business on shaky ground. Her family is in Florida and cannot come up immediately because of the pandemic.

A friend and patron of Heirloom is now running the shop, though he has yet to access the store’s phone number and email account. Friends are working to keep the store financially viable in order to pay for the shop’s expenses, and also as a way to keep Rectanus’ influence alive in the community.

Neighbors can help in the cause by visiting the shop and buying a book, Alexander said.

“They don’t know what’s going to happen, but they want to keep the space to honor Chelsea’s legacy, and also to keep the space for the community,” she said.

Community was one of the things Rectanus was most proud of about Heirloom. Rectanus organized a photo collage in the store called “People of Heirloom,” made up of Polaroids she shot of friends and patrons.

Rectanus rarely talked about her illness or even mentioned to friends and colleagues that she was sick, friends and family said. She didn’t want people to worry about her.

Instead, she poured her work into building a space where people felt welcomed and loved.

“It taught me a lot about people,” Rectanus said in the documentary. “It gave me the opportunity to listen more than talk.”

Rectanus kept a “people of Heirloom” photo collage. [Courtesy Emily Carter Alexander]

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