Credit: Ireashia Bennett

We have a tendency to romanticize cramped, chaotic used bookstores (for an example, see last year’s critics’ pick). Organization and cleanliness just seem so—corporate. But maybe that’s what’s helped After-Words thrive in ultracorporate River North. And, frankly, space to breathe and browse inside a bookstore is totally underrated. At 8,000 square feet, the Illinois Street store isn’t as gargantuan as a Barnes & Noble, thank god, but it’s well lit, spacious, and downright airy compared to many of its contemporaries. And I wouldn’t be surprised to find out the place was run by librarians. Even the basement—where used books that were received more than a year ago are sold at a discount—is well organized. A fun thing for frequent shoppers: there are shelves to the left of the counter where staff stock the books people recently traded in. The impressive selection of works by Chicagoans and about Chicago reinforces that this is a hometown store.