Our neighborhood independent bookstore is celebrating its 30th anniversary in style — Sandmeyer’s Bookstore is throwing a party Wednesday night at Jazz Showcase, right down the street. Ulrich and Ellen Sandmeyer wanted a few local authors to speak while Harry and the Hit Men (a terrific cover band they’re flying in from the Bay Area – their son RalphRolf plays guitar and sings vocals) sets up, and I was honored to be asked. Of course I said yes — Sandmeyer’s is one of the things that attracted us to this Printer’s Row neighborhood in the first place.
When Mike and I decided to move to Chicago back in 2003, we looked for a neighborhood that would be friendly, safe, and easy for my Seeing Eye dog Hanni and me to navigate. That’s how we found Printers Row.
Printers Row is a tiny neighborhood in Chicago just south of the Loop. The buildings in our neighborhood were originally used by printing and publishing businesses.
Before electricity, printers used natural light to check their work, so the windows in neighborhood buildings are tall and wide. You know, to let light in. The ceilings are high, too, to accommodate old printing presses. The neighborhood went the wrong way for a long time, and many of the lovely old buildings were marked for demolition in the 70s and 80s. Thanks to some stubborn preservationists, the visionary architect Harry Weese, and pioneering folks who were willing to homestead in Printers Row, the neighborhood was not lost, but found. Two of those homesteaders were the Sandmeyers, who opened their book store long before Printers Row was a sure bet. Today, most of the buildings that were in peril in Printers Row have been converted into residential lofts. There’s always a lot of activity up and down the street, so I feel safe. When I’m walking around with my new Seeing Eye dog Whitney, I feel like people are looking out for me.
Printers Row is close enough to the Loop that Whitney can walk me to my part-time job downtown at Easter Seals Headquarters and the weekly writing class I teach for senior citizens at the Chicago Cultural Center. It also turned out to be the ideal place for an author to promote a book.
Sandmeyer’s displayed copies of my memoir Long Time, No See in the window the day we moved into Printer’s Row, and I have a feeling that half my royalties stem from Ulrich and Ellen Sandmeyer handselling it to the customers who wandered in. Four years later, Ulrich Sandmeyer called me at home the minute copies of “Hanni and Beth: Safe and Sound” landed at the bookstore’s doorstep.
Mike and I ran right down to admire the box load. One book had already sold by the time we got there – a neighbor had seen Ulrich pulling a copy out of the box and insisted on buying it right away.
“There’s not another book like it,” Ulrich said, marveling at the illustrations inside. “It’s going to sell very, very well.” To that end, Ulrich immediately placed one copy of Safe & Sound in the front display window.
As excellent as Ulrich and Ellen are when it comes to promoting local authors, they are even better when it comes to promoting literacy. We have two wise owners cutting through all the hundreds of thousands of titles out there, and thanks to their intelligent ordering, and good reading, we can easily find books at Sandmeyer’s that we really want to read. Happy birthday, dear Sandmeyer’s. And now…let’s dance!