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Wicker Park, Bucktown, West Town

Wicker Park’s Semicolon Bookstore Moving Back To River West After Owner Gets Chance To Buy Property

Owner Danielle Mullen hopes to close on the store's previous building in River West early next year. In the meantime, the store will reopen Friday at 515 N. Halsted St. for holiday shopping.

Semicolon Bookstore owner Danielle Mullen outside the store's former storefront in River West on Aug. 31, 2021
Quinn Myers/Block Club Chicago
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WICKER PARK — A popular local bookstore is moving back to River West after its owner got an opportunity to buy the store’s original location.

Semicolon Bookstore opened at 515 N. Halsted St. in 2019. It quickly became a destination in River West, with owner Danielle Mullen prioritizing authors of color and local street art.

In 2021, Mullen moved the store to an expansive location in Wicker Park at 1714 W. Division St. with a cafe, children’s area and murals by local artists. Semicolon has hosted readings and other events out of the location, including an outdoor Lit Fest in October.

Mullen was still leasing the original River West location, using it for a pop-up last year and storage. At the same time, the Wicker Park store faced consistent plumbing and flooding, often leading to unplanned closures, Mullen said.

So when the opportunity came up last month to buy the Halsted Street building, Mullen jumped on it. She’s put an offer on the property and hopes to close in January.

And because of the plumbing issues, Semicolon’s current landlord in Wicker Park is allowing the store to get out of its lease early, Mullen said.

After a hectic few weeks nailing down logistics, the stars “aligned beautifully, as they always do for us. … But we’re going to take our exit while we can,” Mullen said.

Credit: Quinn Myers/Block Club Chicago
Semicolon Bookstore’s former — and future — location at 515 N. Halsted Street on Aug 31, 2021.

While the River West location is smaller than the Wicker Park store, Mullen plans to build out the basement to sell used books, with new books being housed on the ground floor. She also hopes to convert apartments above the storefront into literary-themed AirBnbs, which should be ready by this spring, she said.

Mullen and her staff are moving the entire store’s inventory this week and plan to reopen Friday for holiday shopping. Semicolon will continue to hold events and readings in the old — and now new — space.

Besides building out the basement retail area, Mullen plans to make the River West store’s entrance handicap accessible. Customers currently have to climb two steps to enter the building.

“That was our one thing that we hated about the space. The doors are not handicap accessible. But since we’re in the process of purchasing, we will now be able to change those doors so that it is handicap-accessible,” she said.

Mullen said the past year in Wicker Park has been challenging financially, and owning her own store makes more economic sense.

The pending purchase also puts Semicolon on a path toward a permanent foothold in the city’s literary community, similar to iconic independent bookstores that own their buildings such as The Strand in New York City and The Raven in Lawrence, Kansas, Mullen said.

“Permanence is necessary,” Mullen said. “So many bookstores closed this year. We are doing everything we can to not take that route.”

Semicolon reopens Friday at 515 N. Halsted St. It will be open noon-6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.

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