Lake Forest Book Store Celebrates 60 Years

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In 1949, 12 women founded Lake Forest Book Store in Lake Forest, Illinois, and though the business has changed hands several times, women have run the store throughout its long history in the Chicago suburb.

Lake Forest Book Store staff left to right: Angie Smith, Naomi McEneely, Sue Boucher, Lisa Dietrich, Lily Dasso

On Sunday, December 6, current owner Sue Boucher threw a party to mark Lake Forest Book Store's 60th anniversary. "We had a balloon sale," she explained. "We inserted different discounts for free books and gift cards into balloons. Customers could choose a balloon, and we would pop it to see what they got." The party also featured cake, snacks, savories provided by local restaurants and caterers, and there was a giveaway of cloth bags bearing the store's 60th anniversary logo to customers who spent more than $100.

The bookstore's initial founders thought that the residents of Lake Forest, which is home to some of the longest continuously running book clubs in the country, should have a nearby bookstore, Boucher said. One of the founders ran it, while the other woman served on its board of directors. "My guess is they were a group of society women who all pooled their money to open the store," she added. "Someone told me that the board, all wearing gloves and hats, would get together monthly to discuss store business over lunch."

Hildy Gathany, one of the bookstore's first employees, bought it from its founders. She sold it to Marion Strickland, a retired librarian, who, in 1995, sold it to Boucher and her since retired partner. Six years ago, Lake Forest Book Store moved from the 1,000-square-foot space that it had occupied since 1949 to a space formerly occupied by a B. Dalton in Lake Forest's historic Market Square (one block away from its old location). The move doubled its selling space, and the bookstore now features an inventory of about 30,000 titles.

"I bought the book store 14 years ago with no bookselling experience, besides a love of books and reading," said Boucher. "My partner at the time and I learned the business very quickly. We bought it because we had both worked there for a brief time and had fallen in love with the spirit of the store and because the owner, who was having trouble selling it, was ready to liquidate."

Lake Forest focuses on children's books and actively maintaining the city's book clubs -- some are 70 and 80 years old. Boucher said, "I do book review evenings for individual book clubs where I review 50 to 75 books that are great for reading, book clubs, or gifts. I probably do at least 25 to 30 of those a year, and many are silent auction items that are used as fundraisers for local groups. We also have a passion for children's books and a great group of young readers. We partner with the schools for school orders, summer reading, book fairs, and author visits." Current handsells include The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent (Back Bay) and Benny & Shrimp by Katarina Mazzetti (Penguin), both now in paperback.

Lake Forest also continues some of its early traditions. "We still offer 'house accounts,' along with a few other businesses in Lake Forest,'" said Boucher. The store maintains about 200 accounts that customers pay monthly. "We have very little bad debt. It's a system that works for us."

Boucher said she'd love to see the store celebrate its 70th anniversary, while adapting to a changing industry. "I would like to see us expand the way we communicate with customers and look at ways to provide things that customers want that we may not be providing ... like e-books." --Karen Schechner