The Seminary Co-operative Bookstore will move to a new, larger location less than a block from its current home near the end of 2011, the year the Seminary Co-op will celebrate its 50th anniversary.
Seminary Co-op and University of Chicago officials announced the move as planning gets under way for the adaptive reuse of the building at 5757 S. University Ave., including the basement space the Co-op now occupies.
The Seminary Co-op Bookstore's future home will include the first floor and part of the basement at McGiffert House, 5751 S. Woodlawn Ave. Both McGiffert House and the Chicago Theological Seminary building at 5757 S. University Ave. were sold to the University in 2008.
Jack Cella, general manager of Seminary Co-op Bookstores, Inc., said that at a time of upheaval in the industry, the move of the co-operative's flagship store would provide a rare opportunity for an independent bookstore to grow and offer more services to its members and customers, while it retains the focus and feel that have given the store a national reputation.
"The new space will capture the character of the Co-op, even as it gives us more options and improves our long-term health," Cella said. "We are eager to take this important step, and it wouldn't have been possible without the unprecedented support of the University of Chicago."
Cella said the increased space, coupled with increased investment in the Co-op, would allow the store to expand into areas that customers regularly ask about-a broader coverage of the sciences, for example, and more literature in languages other than English. He said the Co-op would be able to host on-site author signings and other events for the first time, and would be able to serve large crowds more comfortably at peak times, such as when students are buying books at the beginning of the quarter.
At the same time, he said that he understands the attachment that some customers have to the quirky layout of the original store. He said planning for the new location will begin with the goal of maintaining the distinctive atmosphere that makes the Co-op's fans so loyal-the emphasis on books and, above all, what is inside them.
"There are always interesting conversations going on among bookstore visitors about books, and these visitors are welcome to browse as long as they want with no pressure to purchase anything. Almost everybody who works here works on the sales floor and is knowledgeable about books, the University and Hyde Park," Cella said. "People in this neighborhood are the ideal customers, and what success we have had flows from our attempt to fit into this unique community. Neither of these things will change."
A committee representing the Co-op and the University is currently undertaking a search for an architect who will guide the adaptation and renovation of McGiffert, which will be funded by the University. University officials also said that when the space is ready, the bookstore would be moved quickly, to minimize disruption for customers.
"Seminary Co-op is an important part of our community, one that shares some of our most basic values as a University, one that is important to our faculty and students. We are delighted that we can help keep the Co-op as a thriving presence on our campus," said David Greene, Vice-President for Strategic Initiatives at the University.
The Seminary Co-op Bookstore opened in 1961 with 17 members. It now has 54,000 member-owners and two branch stores - 57th Street Books and the Newberry Library Bookstore. For more information on the Co-op, see its website at http://www.semcoop.com/.
For more information on the University's purchase of the Chicago Theological Seminary's buildings and plans for the adaptive reuse of 5757 S. University Ave., please see http://news.uchicago.edu/news.php?asset_id=2043.