Credit: Aimee Levitt

About a year after Aaron Lippelt and Mary Gibbons opened Pilsen Community Books on 18th Street, things finally started to fall into place. They had a solid customer base, who were starting to make the store feel homey. They had no plans to open up a second bookstore.

But one day one of their booksellers came back from his day off with the news that Keith Peterson, owner of Selected Works Bookstore on the second floor of the Fine Arts Building, was planning to retire when his current lease was up and was hoping that another bookstore would take over the space on the second floor.

“We came here and talked with the building management,” Lippelt says, “and they were so enthusiastic. It was the best ownership and management of any building I’ve ever been involved with. They love this building like it’s their house, and they offered us a fair rent.”

They signed the lease and began thinking about names for the store. “We love the building,” Lippelt says. “We wanted to do something with its history.” They learned that one of the early tenants had been the Dial, a literary magazine that had originally been founded in 1840 in Boston to popularize Transcendentalist philosophy (its early contributors included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Margaret Fuller, who also served as editor) and then revived in Chicago in 1880 by Francis Fisher Browne as a journal of politics and literary criticism. The Dial seemed like a perfect name for Lippelt and Gibbons’s store, especially once they learned that Browne had also been a bookseller. His shop, Browne’s Bookstore, had been on the sixth floor of the Fine Arts Building. Its interior was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, another tenant. “It was gorgeous,” says Lippelt, who has seen pictures.

Credit: Aimee Levitt

Lippelt and Gibbons took over the four-room space in June and started renovating. The old bookshelves, which Peterson had brought from Selected Works’s previous location in Lakeview, were rickety and had to go. Once the shelves were gone, Lippelt and Gibbons discovered they’d been blocking magnificent views of Congress Plaza. They vowed never to block the windows again, even if it meant sacrificing three walls of display space. Peter Hopkins, a carpenter from Pilsen, built new custom shelves with wood reclaimed from the bleachers at Dixon High School in northwestern Illinois, alma mater of Ronald Reagan. (“Yes, Ronald Reagan’s ass touched that wood,” Lippelt confirms.)

The finished store is a bright and airy space, with high ceilings, and walls decorated with framed covers of old issues of the Dial, purchased off of eBay.

Credit: Aimee Levitt

The booksellers also had to find stock for the new store. Their previous experience had been in the used-book world, which requires a lot of scouting at book fairs and estate sales. But they decided the Dial would sell new books too. “Used books are superfun to find,” says Lippelt, “but new books are so pretty.”

New books also open up the possibility of hosting readings and other events, especially since Lippelt and Gibbons now have access to the Fine Arts Building’s newly renovated 300-seat theater. They hired Kelsey Westenberg, who had previously worked at Roscoe Books in Roscoe Village, to be a bookseller and events coordinator.

The store opened on November 10, during the Fine Arts Building’s monthly Second Fridays Open Studios event. There was food and live music, the latter provided by Rita and the Red Hots. “There were a lot of people who were already here and stepped in,” Westenberg says, “but some came just to see us. It was great to have so many bibliophiles in one place. We love to talk with people about books and build a community.”