Women & Children First – Present: Place and People
Chicago, Illinois is vast, as one would imagine. Confusing, and no doubt with brimming with all kinds of shopping and other activities to consume the day. As a result, a wide selection of stores must cater to many different types of consumers. There are restaurants, clothing stores, jewelry stores, and many other places of interest on North Clark Street, a hub of markets in Chicago.
The Chicago Filmmakers offer classes on the art of producing cinema. If you head south on North Clark Street you’ll see a cozy café, Svea’s Restaurant, and the Gus Giordano Dance studio. Bars and vintage clothing stores are plentiful to attract a youthful crowd, simultaneously, stores selling antique furniture, as well as décor, attract the older residents. This community, the Andersonville community, are so close in fact that they’ve put together a handy guide here that makes sense of all the businesses in the neighborhood.
These types of stores in the neighborhood suggests a close, open-minded and creative community. Among this diverse hub you’ll find the perfect example of those three adjectives. A feminist bookstore, Women & Children First, which believes in community and local activity.
You’re probably wondering just how involved a bookstore can be in its community. Women & Children First is considerate and innovative in its approach to their neighborhood, finding ways to attract and involve its community, through readings, book signings, even socials. They have been able to do this for over three decades, during some of America’s most important civil rights and social movements. Their sense of “place” (we will soon explore this further) is what has given this bookstore, or at least what I believe has given, its source of strength and vitality.
In an article for NPR books, a local nanny was quoted saying “…it’s such an important spot to have in the neighborhood. There aren’t a lot of other stores nearby, a lot of other bookstores.” She then went on to say that she would often bring the children she watches to W&CP.
Along with women and children, W&CF supports the LGBTQ community by holding LGBTQ events in the store, such as this month’s LGBTQ Valentine’s Day party. W&CF also supports emerging writer by hosting their emerging author showcase (W&CF Newsletter). The store supports the growth and development of its community, in every way that seems reasonable and feasible for the establishment, which is something I believe every business should strive for. After all, our local businesses and services say a lot about our sense of community, culture and consumerism.
However, “place” is not only a physical location, it encompasses variety of factors, including “the actual shape of place within which people conduct their lives as individuals, as men or women, as white or black, straight or gay.” (Cresswell 7). Cresswell goes on to explain the many different states and forms of place; place as understanding, as landscape, and the juxtaposition of ‘space’ and ‘place’ (Cresswell 8-11). Place can be defined in many ways, therefore it must be understood that it can effect a variety of things, if not all things.
Yes place is a physical location, but it is also the sense of comfort created, it is the architecture and the furniture, it is the culture of its community and the service or function it provides and most importantly it is the PEOPLE who give it value and meaning. In 2014, the W&CF went through an ownership change that initially frightened the locale. The store was however bought by long time employees Lynn Mooney and Sarah Hollenbeck (Chicago Tribune). A post on the W&CF website stated that “friends of the store can rest assured that the store, though changing hands, will not be changing heart.”
The sense of “place” W&CF cultivates is something they consider strongly, so much so that their values withstood a change in ownership, which as independent bookstores are being sold off and closed, is a powerful and remarkable thing. It demonstrates the power of “place” that Cresswell was so eager to explore and understand.
How does something as simple a place have power? “One answer is that they are all spaces which people have made meaningful. They are all spaces people are attached to in one way or another. This the most straightforward and common definition of place – a meaningful location.” (Cresswell 7)
W&CF’s devotion to its community, and helping it be a healthy, reliable community; is what makes it such a…place. Its value to its customers is earned, constant and reciprocal.
Screen capture of Yelp page for W&CF http://www.yelp.com/biz/women-and-children-first-chicago
Cresswell, Tim. Place: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub, 2004. 7-11.