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The Understudy, A Theater-Themed Bookstore And Cafe, Is Coming To Andersonville

Partners Adam Todd Crawford and Danny Fender will open a cafe and bookstore that will stock 3,000 books on theater, including scripts, manuals, biographies and novels.

The Understudy, a theater-themed coffee shop and bookstore, is opening in a former bank storefront in Andersonville.
Joe Ward/Block Club Chicago
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ANDERSONVILLE — A bookstore and cafe coming to Andersonville is hoping to serve as a resource and hub for Chicago’s theater community.

The Understudy will open this summer at 5531 N. Clark St., owners Adam Todd Crawford and Danny Fender said. The engaged couple are opening the bookstore and cafe as an extension of their careers as theater professionals.

Crawford and Fender are recent graduates of The Theatre School at DePaul University. Graduating into a theater industry that was severely impacted by the pandemic made the couple think about what resources were available to stage artists and professionals.

That’s when they got the idea for The Understudy, a cafe and bookstore that will stock books mostly revolving around theater.

The couple hopes The Understudy can be useful because of the books it stocks, but also that it can provide a home and gathering space for the industry’s artists and professionals.

“As students and professionals, this is a resource we wished was out there,” said Crawford, an actor. “We want this to be a community resource.”

Credit: joe mazza — brave lux inc.
Adam Todd Crawford (l.) and Danny Fender, theater professionals in Chicago, are open up The Understudy Coffee and Books in Andersonville.

The Understudy will open at the corner of Clark and Gregory streets in a spot that has been vacant since at least 2017. It last housed a Chase bank.

The cafe will serve coffee from West Loop-based Metric Coffee and tea from Lakeview’s The Coffee and Tea Exchange, as well as locally made baked goods, Fender and Crawford said.

The Understudy will stock about 3,000 books. Nearly all of the titles will have some relationship to theater, including play scripts, manuals, coffee table books, biographies on artists, novels adopted into plays and children’s theater books.

There will be a guest curation series in which local theater artists will select books and plays with recommendation cards in their own words, the owners said. They plan to hold panel discussions, play readings and networking nights.

“We want to crowd source knowledge from the community,” said Fender, a freelance stage manager. “One of our immediate goals with the shop was to find as many ways as possible to highlight the brilliant voices in this city.”

Crawford and Fender chose Andersonville because of its proximity to Chicago’s storefront theater community, they said. Some of the store’s design — like exposed brick and duct work — will hint at Chicago’s legacy of storefront theater. Design of the store is being led by Chicago firm Siren Betty alongside architect Keefer Dunn.

They said they also chose Andersonville because of the neighborhood’s support of local businesses. The couple wants to open in August.

“It’s going to be so exciting to be in Andersonville,” Fender said. “We’re going to fit in nicely.”

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