By LINDSAY WELBERS
Last week, Jack Cella stood in the basement of the Chicago Theological Seminary. He has to duck to walk around the short, claustrophobic space that for the last 51 years has been home to the Seminary Co-op Bookstore. Instead of the bookshelves being filled floor-to-ceiling with academic tomes, they stood empty.
The Seminary Co-op bookstore moved to a new space above ground, with natural sunlight, a fireplace, outdoor green space and room to expand.
On Sunday, Nov. 11, the Co-op closed the basement space, at 5757 S. University Ave., and began removing the books from cases. Cella said if you placed all the bookshelves end-to-end, they would stretch 1.5 miles.
On Wednesday, Nov. 21, the Seminary Co-op will open in their new space, 5751 S. Woodlawn Ave.
Upon entering the new bookstore visitors will first see the front table, which for decades has featured the best, newest academic books, a great many of them produced by University of Chicago Press.
The nooks and crannies that came about as a result of trying to fit as many books as possible into one basement have been given a nod in the new space. The bookshelves are set at an angle against the walls, creating a disjointed feeling.
“The maze element has been retained,” Cella said.
Alcoves are built into the shelves so that someone browsing can be surrounded on three sides by books. But the new space is a little wider, to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The space is fully ADA compliant, down to the newly installed elevator.
The low ceiling at the original Co-op, which forced employees over four feet tall to duck, is gone. But the exposed pipes that kept the old bookstore cozy in February and sweltering in July haven’t come along. The new ceiling does have exposed pipes in the ceiling, but they’re situated well above where anyone is likely to bump their head.
“They’ll still be there, just higher,” Cella said.
The basement of the new store will house racks of books for U. of C. classes with more room than needed. Cella said they are considering adding a sale section in the back of the basement.
The new store may not be fully completed until a few weeks after it opens. The cash register arrived damaged and some lighting fixtures won’t be installed before opening day. But the entire operation is expected to be up and running in a few weeks.
By this same time next year Cella said he wants the new Co-op to have established a presence in the neighborhood that is bigger and more inviting than the old store.
“We want to have life here,” Cella said. “With the other store, unless you knew it was there you were unlikely to come and see it.”