They spent years selling books in Myopic Books, an iconic Wicker Park store. Now they own it

WICKER PARK – When JR Nelson and Matt Revers moved to Chicago, they both went straight for Myopic Books in Wicker Park.

For Nelson, it was in the mid-90s when the store was located on Division Street.

“I tormented the owner endlessly … for a job. And it only took me six or seven years of torment before I finally got a job and I was so excited,” Nelson said. “I knew as soon as I came to Chicago that this was where I wanted to be. “

Revers visited the store at its current location, 1564 N. Milwaukee Ave., in 2011. He, too, knew right away that he needed to work there.

“This was the first place I handed in a resume and heard nothing. I was working on two jobs, sort of the first thing I could get. And then I got a call to hear if I wanted to work here part time, and that here was job # 3 for a while, “Revers said.” I’ve just been working here ever since. ”

After selling and buying thousands of books in the three-story, bookstore-filled and living through two years of a pandemic and an increasingly unaffordable neighborhood, Revers and Nelson have been given new job titles: co-owners.

Earlier this week, the duo completed their purchase of the bookstore from Rita Clark, who has owned Myopic for the past 11 years.

As they take over an institution well known to readers in Chicago and across the United States, both said they feel a responsibility to preserve the bookstore as the special, beloved place it has been for 30 years – a place that is come to stay.

“We want the best curated collection of fine books in the city and create an atmosphere here where everyone feels comfortable and part of a community, a family, whatever you want to say, to find them. To bring book lovers “to the books they want. That’s it. That’s why we’re here,” Nelson said.

Credit: Quinn Myers / Block Club Chicago
Myopic Books in the heart of Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood

Since opening in the early ’90s, Myopic has been jumping around Wicker Park.

Its current home, with its large hanging sign, has become a defining part of the Wicker Park street scene and a symbol of the neighborhood’s history as a center of art and culture.

Myopic stands as one of a dwindling number of Wicker Park companies that have survived years of gentrification and rising rents. Still, the neighborhood is still a hub for bookstores of all kinds, like Quimby’s, which celebrated its 30th birthday last year, and newer stores like Semicolon and Volumes.

“It’s great, because then you have a destination for everyone,” Nelson said. “They go from one place to another place to another place. It’s amazing, couldn’t be better.”

One of the biggest draws for customers remains Myopic’s rotating inventory. Almost all of the books come from people who look past the store to sell them, leading to an ever-diverse mix of pretty much any genre, Revers said.

“There is no such thing as an algorithm that gives you recommendations here.… There is a very good chance that you will come across a book you have never seen in your life,” Revers said. “I think I every week I see a book that I have never seen before and I have been working here for 10 years. “

While the store may not always have a specific title in stock, it has plenty to choose from – it has about 60,000 books, Nelson said.

“Sometimes we get a whole lot of different books on a topic; we buy a whole section of cult books or alternative health, ”Nelson said. “And a section will just be like, boom, it’s going to explode, and the word’s like it’s going out and people’re all coming in. And then they’ll snatch them up and we’ll get another collection and it’s starting over. “It’s like a life cycle. It’s really fascinating to watch.”

Revers and Nelson praised Clark for appreciating the eclectic spirit of the store and making sure that Myopic would also be ruled by people who do.

“She was someone who valued the store’s institutional memory. And I think she wanted us to continue that,” Nelson said. “COVID was tough on any small business; Myopic had its own challenges. Rita always kept the faith and led us in a way through that period. And that’s why we’re here now. “It’s really important for us to honor it, and I think she knows we want to honor it.”

Nelson and Revers said they have no major changes planned for Myopic. They are excited and passionate about the opportunity and they realize what is at stake in what they have undertaken.

When Myopic closed for a few months at the start of the 2020 pandemic, Nelson came almost every day to check out the building and get out of his house.

Nelson said he would sit behind the counter and watch as people walked by, peeking in, sometimes trying the door to see if the store was open. It emphasized the bookseller’s place in society for Nelson and reminded him why he has worked and continued to work there for almost 20 years.

“They would give me a little hint, or they would make a gesture. So it was just an incredible feeling,” he said. “That’s why we’re here. That people see it, that they know why we’re here, and that’s just an incredible feeling. I think our challenge for that is just to keep it going.”

Myopic Books is open at 12.00-20.00 daily.

Credit: Hannah Alani / Block Club Chicago
Myopic books in Wicker Park.

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