"A month or two from now, we’ll be able to walk into a store on Halsted stocked with some 60,000 hardcovers and paperbacks, on every subject imaginable. I can’t wait." Credit: Ed Robertson via Unsplash

Bridgeport is finally getting a bookstore. At the moment, neighborhood residents like myself have to travel to Pilsen or Hyde Park to get our fix. But a month or two from now, we’ll be able to walk into a store on Halsted stocked with some 60,000 hardcovers and paperbacks, on every subject imaginable. I can’t wait.

Joe Judd has a place of honor in Chicago bookstore history. As a cofounder of Myopic Books some 30 years ago, he helped transform Wicker Park into a desired destination for both Chicagoans and visitors from all over. 

A good bookstore is a cultural hub that exerts a magnetic pull on people who want more out of life than to just go through the motions. Myopic has had several addresses but has always been one of the focal points of the community. Judd hopes his new store, dubbed Tangible Books by his wife and business partner, Lisa, will have a similarly inspirational, transformative effect on Bridgeport.

Judd’s path back to Chicago has been circuitous. He sold Myopic about 12 years ago and moved to a farm in Arkansas to raise his daughters. Several years later, he moved again to the area where he was raised, around Charleston, Illinois, and opened a bookstore. He named it Bob’s Bookstore after his father (a local fixture) and the business thrived until the onset of COVID-19. When the opportunity arose for his daughters to attend a well-rated school in Chicago, Judd decided to move back to town. With the help of his old friend Ed Marszewski of Maria’s and Marz Brewing, Judd found a storefront location on Halsted near 33rd Street.

You might ask why anyone would open a used bookstore in 2021. Most titles that Judd will stock are likely available somewhere online, at even lower prices than the reasonable ones Tangible will surely offer. If your mission is purely a transactional one, then a sprawling, subjectively-organized labyrinth of bookshelves will not be your best bet. If, however, you’re interested in the unexpected discovery and an experience put together by a human being rather than an algorithm, then Tangible Books will doubtless soon be one of your favorite destinations in the city.

Judd tells me over the phone that he depends heavily on his customers to dictate the direction and shape his bookstores take. A customer will come in and ask for something Judd has never heard of. That will send him down a rabbit hole that may result in a whole new section being added to the stacks. Judd credits his wife Lisa for the wide-ranging cooking section in his current store and expects Tangible to reflect the Bridgeport community, as the store becomes a mainstay along the area’s central commercial strip. He will be sharing the block with a couple Chinese restaurants, a junk shop, a hardware store, and various other commercial concerns. The neighborhood is in a process of transformation.

My guess is that this change will not go exactly the same way it did in Wicker Park when Judd opened his first bookstore, but without doubt, his new store will have an effect on the character of Bridgeport. A bookstore signals to passersby that the locals have curiosity and some measure of intellect. It welcomes visitors, telling them by its presence that we want them to spend some time exploring here, rather than to merely lighten their wallets.

Before any of this can happen, Judd must build new shelves, buy signage, and transport his massive stock from Charleston. He’s started a GoFundMe campaign in order to help defray the costs of this massive undertaking. He tells me he’s hoping to open his doors as early as October. But there’s a ton of work to do before that happens. He’s been shuttling back and forth between Chicago and Charleston for weeks. His family has found a home a few blocks from the store, and his daughters have started their school year.

When I ask Judd his favorite kind of book, he says modern fiction, but struggles to come up with a title. The first one that pops into his head is Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms, a popular 2011 children’s book by Lissa Evans that one of his daughters brought him recently. It’s a telling example of how his mind works. Asked to name a personal preference, he defers to one introduced to him by someone else. He’s open and curious about what moves those around him. 

This is why I know Tangible Books will fill a need in my neighborhood and we’ll have a big say in the shape that the store takes. No one can entirely predict the character an area in economic and demographic flux, like Bridgeport is now, will ultimately take. But the type of bookstore Joe Judd helped originate can’t help but make a place more attractive in multiple ways. I’ll be one of the first ones through the door when he flips his sign to “OPEN.”

Those interested in supporting Tangible Books can contribute to the online fundraiser at GoFundMe.