Last week a cacophony produced by the use of various hammers, saws, and drills echoed through the forthcoming Revival Food Hall on South Clark, where construction workers were finishing up preparations for the enormous upscale food court. But final touches were being made much more quietly in the southeast corner of the space: Curbside Splendor, the longtime independent press specializing in what it calls the “extraordinary voices” of the midwest, was getting ready to open its first storefront operation. It’s more stable territory for a bookseller well-known for hawking its merch on folding tables at festivals like Pitchfork.
“This new space is important because independent literature is going through a major development right now, where there are a ton of very successful presses,” says Curbside’s editor in chief, Naomi Huffman. “As a group, we’re collectively producing some of the nation’s most important literature.”
For Curbside, opening a physical location was an opportunity to expand its readership and engage with the broader demographics of downtown foot traffic. While the press’s team initially thought they would open a storefront in a familiar west-side neighborhood like Humboldt Park or Noble Square, Huffman says that the opportunity to participate in the Revival’s community was a “no-brainer.”
Accessibility is a recurring theme in the shop. Huffman notes that independent publishers like Curbside more accurately represent the wider public—there is more room for experimentation, genre hybridity, and identity exploration along the lines of sexuality and race, resulting in diverse voices typically ignored by big-box bookstores. There are graphic novels and poetry chapbooks from lesser-known authors slotted between more traditional prose works. Though the north side of the store is exclusively Curbside-issued material, the south end is filled with items from other smaller presses such as Drag City and Rescue Press. The outlet also offers independently produced records from Chicago-based labels like Grand Jury, a testament to Curbside’s “deep roots in music.”
These homegrown sensibilities extend to Curbside’s relationship with its new neighbors. “Like the restaurants here, we are a sampling of what Chicago has to offer,” Huffman explains. “It makes sense that we are here.”
And since many people enjoy having a beer while they read, Huffman hopes that the storefront will be a natural companion to the restaurants’ happy-hour specials. She also looks forward to hosting author talks in the space, though as of now none are scheduled.
The shelves are still filling up, but the pots of air plants and vintage tchotchkes speak to how Curbside’s staff is making this shop a home. Rows of vinyl LPs wait for fingers to sift through them. It’s a captivating opening to the publisher’s latest chapter. v