No Coast redefines the bookstore.
The first to greet us as we walk into the new No Coast bookstore in Pilsen is Stella, a sweet and silent shepherd/Doberman mix. She’s the least unusual aspect of the store, but her greeting does signal that the shop is up to something different. Screenprinted posters hang from the walls, hand-designed clothing dangles from a single rack in the corner, and on the display tables sit handmade and artist-designed zines. A rack toward the rear of the store holds cassette tapes with homemade labels. Hell, even the awning outside—leftover from the previous tenant at Laflin and 17th—promises sandwiches, ice cream and snacks.
This is all because No Coast is a completely original space in Chicago. Six artists (though there have been as many as eight) founded No Coast as a co-op in 2007, renting space in the building so they could ply their craft while sharing rent, supply costs and the various decision-making demands that come with running a studio. When the store in the building’s corner moved out, the collective moved in.
“We liked the idea of having a corner store,” says Alex Valentine, a member of the co-op, which opened the store in October. “All of the studio members wanted to have a social space, and having a hangout—clubhouse, corner store—just seemed pretty fun.”
In a neighborhood without many bookstores but with a burgeoning art scene, No Coast fills more of a chasm than a niche.
“It’s all about celebrating what’s here in the Midwest,” says Aay Preston-Mynt, another co-op member. “It’s acknowledging that a scene exists independently of whatever is going on in the coastal art worlds.”
The books are sold on consignment, with 60 percent going to the author/artists and 40 percent to the store. We spied a few books from Chicago presses and books from indie-publishing vets like Al Burian. But many of the books feature artists, from the city and beyond. Keith Herzik’s zines of tiny screenprints sit on the shelf, as do the comics of musician-writer Dewayne Slightweight and a handmade book of Valentine’s own prints and writings. Valentine happily showed us some of the recent arrivals, including a mind-blowing book of macabre movie posters from Ghana. And almost everything—including the art—sells for $50 or less.
And that’s what makes No Coast such an intriguing contribution to the city right now—aside from Quimby’s in Wicker Park, no space offers the kind of diversity in stock, and certainly not on the South Side. The studio also offers a series of open workshops and a monthly screenprinting “lock-in,” where studio members are available for 24 hours to teach the craft. The space has played host to screenings, music shows (including one to launch the store, pictured above), and will help launch the latest Eye Rocket zine on December 11 at 7pm.
Of course, the seas are rough for bookstores right now. Never mind the consistent closings of independent stores—even megachains like Borders have reported serious losses. Some stores are able to succeed by carving out niches, offering up wares unseen in the chains, which No Coast certainly does. But when asked about the chances of surviving, Valentine shakes it off.
“We feel like this is a completely different business model,” he says. “The co-op members pay the rent for the space, and we use the space for other things. Any receipts from the store just get reinvested into it. We have no misconceptions about turning a profit. We’re doing it for other reasons.”
No Coast resides at 1500 W 17th Street and is open Wednesday–Friday 11am–7pm; Saturday noon–7pm; Sunday noon–6pm.