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Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park

Year After Owner’s Death, Friends Keep Edgewater’s Heirloom Books Running As A Nonprofit

After owner Chelsea Carr Rectanus died in August 2020, friends, local businesses and neighbors stepped up to keep the beloved book store open in her memory.

Stepbrothers Erik Graff (seated) and Erik Badger have run Heirloom Books in the year since owner Chelsea Ractunus' death.
Joe Ward/Block Club Chicago
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EDGEWATER — When Heirloom Books owner Chelsea Carr Rectanus died last year, the fate of the beloved book store and the community it fostered were in question.

But one year later, the shop is still going strong, carried on by Rectanus’ father and friends with support from neighbors and other local businesses. Now, the store at 6239 N. Clark St. is becoming a nonprofit to keep it in the community.

Rectanus, 32, died “peacefully but unexpectedly” from a longstanding illness in August 2020. Her father, Earl Rectanus, took over as store owner, paying bills and managing sales. Her friends, Erik Badger and Erik Graff, stepped up to manage Heirloom’s operations.

RELATED: After Owner Of Heirloom Books Dies, Friends Rally To Save Edgewater Store: ‘It’s More Than A Book Shop’

Badger and Graff also organized a fundraiser to pay the shop’s immediate expenses. Neighbors donated $18,000, helping the Heirloom team forge ahead.

“People will come in and overpay,” Graff said. “They have really stepped up.”

Credit: Facebook/Herloom Books
Chelsea Rectanus opened Heirloom Books in 2017.

Graff, a retired former dean at Loyola University, is at Heirloom virtually every hour it is open. Badger handles information technology and web development while helping with store duties.

Despite the patchwork ownership and management structure in the past year, community support has remained strong. The store is profitable, primarily because Badger and Graff, who are stepbrothers, work for free.

Heirloom is more well stocked and better organized than ever before, they said. That’s thanks to the help of volunteers and businesses like Edgewater resale shop Green Element, which donates books. Neighboring business Helix Cafe has donated two book shelves to Heirloom.

“When [Rectanus] died, there was this question of what would happen to the shop? It was a cause people cared about. It seemed like a reasonable risk to jump in,” Badger said.

Credit: Facebook/Heirloom Books
A panoramic view of Heirloom Books.

Heirloom’s nonprofit governing board will include Badger, Graff and members of the Rectanus family, Badger and Graff said. Once they complete the transition, Badger and Graff hope to make the shop into a beacon of community engagement, they said.

The store managers want to start a program to donate books to waiting rooms and local offices of nonprofits and other service groups, they said. They also want to start a program to cover the cost of carpentry classes at Loyola Park, and they will pay teen graduates to make book shelves and other furniture for the store.

Any profits that do come in will be turned over to local charitable efforts, they said.

Giving back to the neighborhood is just one way to carry on the legacy Rectanus started, Badger and Graff said.

Heirloom was known as much for its community of passionate readers and special events as it was its collection of used books. The store was frequently filled with people not only browsing, but sitting on the chairs of sofa and holding weighty conversations, friends and customers have said.

With Heirloom’s future secured, that community will still have a place to meet — and give back in the process.

“Chelsea was so warm and accommodating, and she built this wonderful community,” Badger said. “That community has really come through to help.”

Heirloom Books is open noon-7 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday.

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