Chelsea Rectanus at her Edgewater store, Heirloom Books Credit: Michelle Kanaar

Chicagoans is a first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford.

Pretty much every morning when I wake up, I try to remember my dreams right away, and then gather myself and figure out where I am mentally for the day ahead. It always starts with: “OK, what do we do today? You own a bookstore. This is your life now.” I don’t have family in Chicago, I don’t live with anyone, I don’t have any pets, so it’s just me and the shop and my friends.

I make myself coffee, I get ready for the day, just standard stuff. I usually walk or bike to the shop. Turn all the lights on. Do a little bit of dusting. I put my sign out. I open anywhere between 8 AM to 11 AM; it really just depends on how up and at ’em I am. I consider this place a second home, so I don’t have a rigid structure. I just want to be there when my sign is posted that I’m there. It’s just me on staff. I have a volunteer who helps me stock books sometimes.

I set things up for customers, and then I go to answering e-mails and checking out inventory, making sure we have best sellers. I’ll return calls from people who have left messages about books they want. I do a little bit of writing in the mornings when I’m here by myself. And then I just wait for the customers to come in. I obviously love when people buy books, but it’s not a prerequisite to being able to sit and hang out; it’s just an added bonus if they buy something.

Some poet friends might stop in and do their work while I’m doing mine. And then around dinnertime, anytime between 6 and 8, I’ll start slowly shutting the lights off, and then I’ll head out for the evening.

A lot of people just come in with boxes of books and say, “I’m going to throw these away or give ’em to you,” and I find a place for them. Today we spent all day shelving about eight boxes worth. It’s not easy work by any means, but it keeps me busy. I was a bartender for years, and one thing I miss about bartending is the constant movement. I don’t like sitting at a desk all day. I like doing things. Ironically, I read less now that I have a bookstore, because there’s so much else to do.

I have investors, and my parents have been the co-owners. We’re slowly making the transition into me being the full owner, but to start out, I needed their help. At this point we’re in the black—we’re keeping our nose above water. We’re dog-paddling, but we’re keeping our nose above water, but that’s all we expected in the first place.

I think people are very skeptical of my owning a bookstore, but they’re also very encouraging. It’s like the kid who wants to be a famous rock star, and everyone’s like, “Well, you’ve got a great voice, and you’re very talented, but you’re asking for the world here, so don’t get your hopes up.” What I get the most is “You’re really brave!” Which I guess is true.

And then I definitely run into people who romanticize it. I romanticize it. I pinch myself sometimes. It really is as great as the romance would lead you to believe. There’s obviously a lot of hard work, and it’s not all roses and garlands and angels singing from the rooftops or anything like that, but it’s good as it’s cracked up to be. I’ll go down with the ship if the worst should happen, because this is really my life now.

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