By Alex Poppe
When I asked Suzy Takacs, the owner of Lincoln Square’s The Book Cellar, an independent bookstore on Chicago’s northwest side, what TV series would use her space as a recurring location, she didn’t hesitate with her one-word answer: Cheers. After sitting down to talk with her, it is easy to see why. In our pre-Covid-19 days, not only did this beloved neighborhood fixture serve up some of the best wines by the glass and small plates in the city to accompany its exceptionally well-curated book collection, but more important, it was a home away from home for many of its clients. In fact, when one customer’s son ran away from home, he ran to The Book Cellar, where his mom waited for him to cool down under the staff’s watchful, caring eye.
Another regular used The Book Cellar as a refuge when got locked out of his own home. Older clients who have moved out of the neighborhood to enter assisted living facilities have had their children bring them to The Book Cellar when their children came to visit. One long time regular had the unofficial job of turning the OPEN sign on when he came in. But perhaps the biggest testament to the importance of The Book Cellar in the local community is the $40,000 fans donated through a GoFundMe page last April to help The Book Cellar stay afloat while many businesses in the city capsized due to Covid-19. I asked Suzy what her secret was for inspiring such loyalty. She credited hard work, participating in the local chamber of commerce and in schools, and her commitment to the community, but I have another idea. I think the secret weapon is Suzy. Here’s why.
Suzy wants The Book Cellar to convey a “homey, cozy feel.” She accomplishes this by treating people as if they are coming to her home when they come to her store. She explained that the customer’s experience is personal for her, meaning if someone has a bad experience, she takes it personally. Her concern for the personal, Susy’s heart, is why The Book Cellar is a singular space, a gathering place, a place for conversation, and why it has been with us since 2004. No wonder The Book Cellar team dropped a customer’s purchase off to the customer when pick-up hours conflicted with the customer’s work schedule.
Suzy’s heart extends to her staff. My mouth fell open when she told me she had been practicing appointment only shopping because her staff didn’t feel comfortable with public browsing when Chicago’s positivity rates were above 9%. I was so impressed that her concern for her staff’s and their families’ well-being is more important to her than making money. That is true leadership.
The Book Cellar, 4736 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60625
Alex Poppe is the author of Girl, World, which was named a 35 Over 35 Debut Book Award winner, First Horizon Award finalist, Montaigne Medal finalist, was short-listed for the Eric Hoffer Grand Prize, was awarded an Honorable Mention in General Fiction from the Eric Hoffer Awards and was recommended by the US Review of Books. Alex’s novella Duende will be published by Regal House Publishing in the summer of 2022.