I found myself trying, and failing, to imagine the small neighborhood of Andersonville, Chicago, where the bookstore Women and Children First is located. Quickly, I found myself turning to google maps to quite literally walk me through the quaint little neighborhood, specifically North Clark Street where Women and Children First is currently located. It rests near the southern border of Andersonville, only a block from the Southern border of West Foster Ave. Andersonville makes a pentagonal shape, with the Eastern Border laying on North Magnolia Avenue, the North Eastern slanted border on North Ridge Ave, the Northern border on West Victoria Street and the Western border on North Ravenswood Ave. Andersonville is a small neighborhood, and is only about .634 square miles.
The neighborhood is known for its Swedish culture, and in fact, the Swedish American Museum is only a few blocks from Women and Children First. There are Swedish cuisines, such as Svea, which serves classic Swedish dishes and is even served by people with Swedish accents—how authentic!
Left: Svea. Right: Swedish American Museum.
While this neighborhood does have a strong Swedish culture, it is primarily known for its diversity and strong LGBT community. During my stroll down google maps, I found many gay bars and restaurants in the surrounding blocks of Women and Children, the closest being Atmosphere Bar, just a couple blocks down the road! Andersonville is considered a very queer friendly neighborhood. Women and Children First, a bookstore known primarily for its books for and about women, prides itself on carrying many wonderful gay and lesbian fiction, and non-fiction selections. Andersonville is also known for its women-owned businesses, which is part of the reason Women and Children first decided to move into this neighborhood.
Andersonville is also known for its diversity. Andersonville has a large population of over
15,00 residents in this small area, making it much more dense in this small area than Chicago is as a whole. The median household income is $48,272, and around 67% of those occupationally employed in this area are considered white collar, compared to the 33% considered blue collared. Clearly, this is a wealthier neighborhood. Also, right around 50% of the citizens living here identify as “white” racially, perhaps due to the large Swedish culture here.
However, if we were to “stand” on the corner in front of Women and Children first, there are three or four different kinds of places to purchase food right across the street, or down the road a few feet within the same block (one of which being Svea!). In Andersonville, there are American cuisine choices, Swedish Cuisine, Italian, Middle Eastern, Southern, etc. Just through food choices in this area, the cultural diversity quickly becomes clear despite the high “white” population.
Farraguts (across the street).
Svea (across the street, to the left of Farraguts).
Reza’s Restaurant: Persian/Mediterranean/Vegetarian Cuisine (within the same block).
I found the focus in this neighborhood, rather than the clear cultural diversity, definitely seems to be the queer-friendly atmosphere. Stores like Brown Elephant (which would also metaphorically be seen on our stroll down North Clark Street) collect donations which are then sold to the public and all of the profit goes back into the Howard Brown Health Center, which is a huge LGBT organization that provides health care, as well does research on diseases like HIV/AIDs.
Andersonville as a neighborhood is a clear example of a space that “someone” (or the many ‘someones’ in this community) have made “meaningful” (Creswell 7). They’ve created this inclusive and welcoming enviornment that has welcomed many different kinds of lifestyles, communities and cultures—most obvious being this LGBT community. Women and Children First fits right into this culture, especially when looking at the three fundamental aspects John Agnew lays out as the aspects for a place as a “meaningful location.” He describes these three as aspects as: location, locale, and sense of place (Creswell 7). The actual ‘location’ of this bookstore, on North Clark Street, places it right in the middle of this heavily populated queer-friendly community. The ‘locale’ of the bookstore then fits right in since they have such a large collection of gay and lesbian fiction/non-fiction selections, and they have a strong focus towards the women in a neighborhood comprised with a female population of 48.1%. The ‘sense of place’ is given to this bookstore through the connection the surrounding community has with the books inside—the large collection of LGBT friendly books, and the over 30,000 books catered towards women and children.
Women and Children First.
It is then interesting to conclude with a look at how this “place is a way of understanding the world” (Cresswell 79). Each different place creates a very different environment, a very different atmosphere, and having a bookstore like this one would not thrive in a community that does not have these same specific ideals. This bookstore understands the way this community works, and has thus created an understanding of, and meaning in, its own individual world within Andersonville.
American Swedish Museum <http://www.choosechicago.com/neighborhoods-and-communities/andersonville/things-to-do/>
Population Photo <http://www.city-data.com/neighborhood/Andersonville-Chicago-IL.html>
Google Maps: Andersonville, Atmosphere Bar, Farraguts, Reza’s Restaurant, Svea Restaurant, Women and Children First.
Cresswell, Tim. Place: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub, 2004.