Curbside Splendor, a darling of the Chicago indie lit scene, has always struck us as unafraid. They started as a ’90s punk rock band, after all, and somehow parlayed that into a successful publishing house that’s been with us since 2009. As bigger fish like Amazon wade into the Chicago literary scene with a brick and mortar store planned for the Lakeview neighborhood, many independent booksellers are concerned. Some are even shutting their doors forever.
This is a good time for a different approach. And that’s exactly what editor-in-chief Naomi Huffman and her crew at Curbside have done, opening their own corner bookstore. But they didn’t pick just any corner for their first physical retail space. Instead, they struck out in a new direction, and made their home in the recently opened Revival Food Hall at 125 S. Clark, nestled among some of the city’s largest corporate workplaces, like the nearby Chase building.
Writers get excited about bookstores, so when we heard about this space opening up, we couldn’t wait to check it out. Matt Brooks and I teamed up to tell you more about this exciting opening with details on the location, the loot and the overall vibe.
Marielle: Curbside Books and Records is located on Clark Street in the Revival Food Hall. As such, it’s only open Monday thru Friday from 11 am to 7 pm. It’s also very, very loud and sometimes quite crowded. That’s why I was glad to find Curbside’s location inside the hall visible upon entry and tucked away next to the Revival Café, offering a quieter corridor for lunch and some shopping. It seems a bit of a strange place for an indie lit outpost, amidst a sea of hungry corporate types, but looking at the list of restaurants, from Furious Spoon to Antique Taco, I can see that this is a place of introduction, and I hope that proves lucrative, even without weekend shoppers.
Matt: While the small open shop was difficult to find at first, that was exactly the charm of it. It felt as if we were discovering it, even if in reality it was in plain sight with busy city dwellers eating in its midst. With a small, yet undoubtably unique selection of independent releases, Curbside Records & Books is a breath of fresh air for small business in an area of Chicago that is otherwise smothered by big banks and chains.
Marielle: I had the good fortune of running into Naomi Huffman when I visited, so I picked her brain a bit and asked her what some of her favorite new things were. She mentioned quite a few that I then put on my “must-have list” including the beautiful essay/illustration volume, The Secret Birds, by Tony Fitzpatrick, a Chicago native whose art has been featured at the Art Institute, as well as a big get for Curbside, the not-quite-released-yet Late Stories with Stephen Dixon. Dixon, a National Book Award nominee and accomplished author, is someone every should read, noted Huffman, and their relationship will continue with another volume later on down the road. Even if I hadn’t run into Naomi, I would’ve found a helpful staff, an incredibly diverse and beautiful selection of books with bold, interesting covers and handwritten recommendations that gave me more insight into the unique stories Curbside is trying to cultivate.
Matt: I went to the shop with my co-worker Vicky, and I purchased “The First Collection of Criticism By a Living Female Rock Critic” by Pitchfork’s Jessica Hopper.
I admired that, though I am more or less an outsider to the independent literature world, I felt that I trusted their selections right away. Maybe it was because there was so much space provided for each piece, rather than many small shops that pack in as much as they can. It seemed to give every book and record a little more credibility. That’s what ultimately stuck out to me with Jessica Hopper’s second release from 2015.
Marielle: Curbside manages to really make the space their own. Despite the surrounding chaos, they’ve created a space that is cozy and comfortable, with its own aesthetic that was clean and welcoming. Because Curbside is independent, it can really curate what it does and push boundaries. That means some beautiful and provocative covers that attract your attention and give a gallery feel to both their books and those of the other small publishing houses that are represented as well, giving more than adequate space and attention to each title, and giving shoppers a sort of farm-to-table look at the publishing houses from whence they came.
Matt: I don’t know much about the indie record scene but I thought the setup there was pretty nice too. It reminded me of a bookstore I wanted to stay a while at, which is pretty incredible in a loud, busy dining hall.
Overall? We both highly recommend making your way to Revival Food Hall to check out this new shop. I think Matt sums it up best:
“Curbside Records & Books, the first storefront of Curbside Splendor, is proving that Chicago is a city with surprises around and in every corner. Go discover it on your break today!”