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Meet Rebecca George of Volumes Bookcafe in Wicker Park

Today we’d like to introduce you to Rebecca George.

Rebecca, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Most of my career was in academia/education. After completing undergraduate studies at the University of Iowa, I acquired an MA in teaching Secondary Education. I taught English abroad shortly before teaching in CPS for a few years. After that I went back to school to get my MFA in Writing at Naropa University in Boulder, CO. While I was out there I interned with a literary agent and attended the University of Denver Publishing Institute. Upon returning to Chicago I worked for a small press and returned to teaching as an adjunct instructor at a variety of local colleges and universities. I thought I would be doing that forever, and in fact was about to leave to get my PhD when a nagging doubt sort of took over, and I decided to reevaluate my situation. I’ve always followed the publishing and book industry, and I began to see a trend with new bookstores popping up. I spent months collecting data. I called bookstores. I attended conferences. I spent about a year just putting together the business plan to see if it was a thing I could do. As a long-time resident of the Wicker Park area, I knew the neighborhood would benefit from a general independent community bookstore. My vision was really to create more than a place that just sold books. I wanted to create a welcoming space for the community to come together.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Ha! No, it was not a smooth road, by any means. I meet some other people who want to open a bookstore elsewhere in the country, and they are as green as I was. They think it will be this quick thing, as if all they need is a lease and a go-getter attitude. A bookstore is a far more complicated business than people think. I’m still learning.

We had several hiccups with the city and permitting. We had no idea it would take close to 8 months to get all of the permitting for a fairly simple build-out. I learned to be a much more patient person through that process. There is no one person you can ask for help with moving things along. You’re at the will of so many people. Yet, those delays aided us a bit in that it gave us more time to really hone in on a variety of things. We also did a great deal of the work on the space ourselves, with the help of our father. When you’re not an expert in construction, those things take far longer.

The first year of any new business is always a struggle. You are figuring out your budget. You’re figuring out staffing. We’re fortunate that nearly every member of our staff now has been with us since before we opened. We’re a big family now, and part of that is because we have struggled and floundered together. We’ve also accomplished great things, and I’m pretty proud of who we are as a team.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Volumes Bookcafe – what should we know?
We are an independent bookstore, first and foremost. We are also a cafe, selling coffee, tea, pastries, beer, wine and boozy coffee.

We are a community space. We offer a robust schedule of events every month – from twice a week story time for the little kids, to author events, readings, open mics, game nights, book clubs, music performance and more! I think as a bookstore, we often get complimented a lot on our selection. We select our books to match what our neighborhood reads. We also select the books we enjoy the most. Luckily, the two things correlate there. We know our community likes sci-fi more than mystery. They enjoy philosophy and science more than memoir. They, like us, really like books in translation as well as social-justice centered books, and we can’t be more excited about that.

We are unique in design, and in focus, certainly. I think every independent bookstore directly reflects the community they are in. We are Wicker Park.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
Oh, goodness, so many.

Our parents, of course. They were and are a big help. Our entire family is very supportive as are our friends. Countless people picked up a block of sandpaper or a paintbrush when we were putting things together. Dozens came out to unload the books before we opened. They still help us every day.

Several bookstore owners across the country have been mentors for me. Nicole Sullivan from Denver’s Bookbar, as well as Joyce Meskis of Tattered Cover in Denver. Lynn Mooney from Women & Children First. Suzy Takacs from The Book Cellar. They’ve all guided me in one way or another. I could name another dozen, in fact. Bookstore people are, simply put, some of the most extraordinary people I’ve ever known. They’re smart. They’re passionate about what they do. They want us all to succeed.

Over the last year I’ve met so many great authors, community leaders and the like. They have been big cheerleaders for us. A successful small business needs hundreds, if not thousands of cheerleaders. It’s impossible to narrow that list down.

Contact Info:

  • Address: 1474 N. Milwaukee Ave
    Chicago, IL 60622
  • Website: www.volumesbooks.com
  • Phone: 773-697-8066
  • Email: info@volumesbooks.com
  • Instagram: @volumesbooks
  • Facebook: @volumesbooks
  • Twitter: @volumesbooks

Image Credit:
All photos except for the event one come from Ryan Moore Photography

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