SOUTH LOOP — A popular South Loop bookstore has decided to temporarily close during NASCAR weekend for safety reasons.
Exile in Bookville owners Javier Ramirez and Kristin Enola Gilbert recently celebrated the second anniversary of the bookstore’s move to the Fine Arts Building, 410 S. Michigan Ave.
While Fourth of July weekend is typically lucrative for the store, this year its owners are closing — and they’re not happy about it. The store will be closed July 1-3 out of an abundance of caution for patrons and staff, Gilbert said.
“People can access our building, but we are directly on the race course, where protective hearing is required,” Gilbert said. “We are a bookstore, so I don’t know how anyone could physically have a conversation when NASCAR cars are racing right underneath us. Then you also have to explain to the guards [stationed] on the corners that you want to go into a business, [you’re] not standing on the sidewalk to try and watch the race for free.”
Barricades also would make it difficult for people to even get to the store, Gilbert said.
Gilbert and Ramirez announced the weekend closure on Instagram Thursday. The post said they were frustrated the city didn’t better communicate with business owners on the route ahead of the event, and are worried about the integrity of the 125-year-old building itself.
“Our glass in our fiction room and our floor-to-ceiling windows is the original glass from the 1800s. It’s not meant to withstand hundreds of loops of vibrations and noise,” Gilbert said. “The [Studebaker Theater] poster boxes in front of our building … some of them are original. A huge component of NASCAR races is car crashes, right?”
Some residents and local officials have been voicing their concerns about the race for months. Block Club reported in March that leaders from the Shedd Aquarium and Grant Park Advisory Council pressed the city for answers about the number of road closures and wear and tear on park grounds.
NASCAR is required to pay restoration costs for any damage done to the park during the event.
“[The city] threw together this emergency public forum a few months ago with no notice. We found out during an interview with ABC7 Chicago but we were hosting Jonathan Franzen that night. It wasn’t even as if we could attend something thrown together so spontaneously, nor would it have mattered,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert stressed that her issues are with the city, not NASCAR. While other festivals like Lollapalooza and the Taste of Chicago allow for the easy flow of foot traffic, she said the layout of the racing competition makes for a logistical nightmare.
The most frustrating part for Gilbert and Ramirez is the hit they’ll take in sales as a result; they count on customers visiting during the summer to carry them through the winter, when sales slump. The number of independent bookstores has been on the decline for the last decade. According to the American Booksellers Association, the number of independent shops decreased 12 percent between 2012 and 2017.
While Gilbert acknowledged the industry may be dying, she’s also grateful for the community Exile in Bookville — a nod to Liz Phair’s popular 1993 album, “Exile In Guyville” — has built, adding that the outpouring of support since the announcement has been “amazing.”
“Everyone’s been so kind and so supportive and understanding. Chicago’s a great community,” she said.
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