How an impromptu interview led me to a hidden gem in Edgewater

Early this Sunday morning, I was pleasantly surprised by a DM from my co-worker, Boe Chmil, who was asking for help on a documentary shoot at a nearby bookstore in Edgewater, Chicago.

I was already planning on working on my own projects with Small Town Chicago, but the mundanity of this pandemic just made me excited for another excuse to leave my apartment.

My friend and I negotiated a time and once I was done with my own, I headed to Heirloom Books on 6239 N Clark St.

Next to Helix Cafe, the bookstore is a charming nook of character with a beautiful story of love and community.

Throughout our interview with the Heirloom’s primary caretaker, Erik Graff, he’d pause to welcome customers by asking if they, “knew the drill.”

“What was the drill,” I asked.

This led to a personal tour of the store from Graff, where he showed me its unique layout, special color-coding system, and their wide variety of unique finds.  

It may be small, but Heirloom is pure of wonders, with a labyrinth of second-hand books on a wide variety of backgrounds and topics that stretch every corner of the human psyche. Their bookshelves hold history with texts that are over a hundred years old like The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex by Charles Darwin from 1871. It’s even been a hub for artists, minorities, and many others to speak and discuss new ideas.

Now I’ll admit, I’m far from a bookworm, which is what made this experience so special. Most of my book buying experiences have been at places like Barnes and Noble, who have an adequate experience, but lack character with a selection of mass produced, predictable reads that all claim to be a “New York Times Best Seller.”

I was refreshed by a truly unique experience from people who cared about serving their community through literature.  

Graff explained that the location opened four years ago, in April of 2017, by Northwestern alum Chelsea Carr.

For three years, Carr modestly ran the store with the help from Graff as a volunteer. As a longtime germaphobe, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Carr decided to shut down the location. Heirloom’s reopening in August of 2020 was sadly prompted by Carr’s death at 29-years-old after a long-term illness.

Since then, Erik Graff happily volunteers his time to run the store and take care of its customers. What’s so special about Heirloom is the community of people who have wholeheartedly contributed to its survival. Family members, small businesses and others in the Rogers Park and Edgewater area have wholeheartedly picked up responsibilities in the business. Their GoFUndMe page has now raised nearly $18,000.

With coverage from local news outlets, the bookstore’s humble story is now attracting more people than ever. People from all over Chicago have ventured to visit the quaint little shop. In the future, Heirlooms hopes to become a not-for-profit organization and donate their revenue to other businesses in the area. 

You can visit Heirloom Books on 6239 N Clark St. every day from 12 to 7 p.m.