Jan 31, 2019
Roberta Rubin
American Writers Museum

Roberta's Biographical Sketch

I was an independent bookseller for almost 40 years!  I worked in the Glencoe Book Shop from 1975-1981 before buying The Book Stall  in Winnetka IL in 1982.  In the Fall of 1986, I purchased Chestnut Court Book Shop in downtown Winnetka, and merged the two businesses in early 1987.  Chestnut Court was started in 1937, on Chestnut Court Avenue in Winnetka.  When I moved into the store, it had moved to 811 Elm Street.  I called the store The Book Stall at Chestnut Court, and it was close to 1000 square feet.  By 1999, it had grown from 1000 sq. feet to 5000 sq. feet – I like to say that we expanded from one awning to four awnings!  I brought   Caribou Coffee into the corner space in 1999, although I never owned any part of it. It was just attached to us on the corner of Chestnut and Elm.

We worked closely with the surrounding North Shore communities as well as with the downtown Chicago Clubs.  In 1993, we won the Haslam Award for Excellence in Independent  Bookselling across the country.  In 1997, we were named by USA Today as one of the 10 Outstanding Bookstores in America.  And in 2012, we were named the Publishers Weekly Bookstore of the Year – quite an honor among all the bookstores in the country. 

While owning The Book Stall, I introduced in-store book clubs that took place once a week for many years!  I started out being a book club leader on the roster of 7 to 8 leaders in each one of the sessions (Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall).  I had been a Junior Great Books leader in the schools, and I had also hosted my own adult Book Club for about 10 prior to owning the store.

Another activity that I found very satisfying in the early 2000s was giving 4 minute book talks on WFMT.  Mary Dempsey from the Chicago Public Library and I alternated the weekly book talks about books that we thought would interest the listeners.  I picked a wide range of books and it seemed to be very well received.  That was from  2000 – 2004.

I was also one of the first booksellers in the country, in the mid 1980’s , that went to New York to interest the publishers  in bringing authors to Chicago to help “ sell their books!”  By the 1990’s, we were hosting some of the big name authors either in the store or in the community.  We eventually built a large audience in the downtown Chicago Clubs,  i.e. The Union League Club,  The University Club, The Standard Club , the WAC, to name a few.  I would say we had over 400 authors and writers a year in various venues.

My husband David and I raised four wonderful children – three girls and a boy at the end!  They live in New York, Boston, and two of them in Ann Arbor.  I am a grandparent to 7 grandchildren- and unfortunately, my husband David did not live to see any of them born.  My second husband, a sportswriter and head of operations for the Chicago Bears died  in 2015.  I now live in Evanston at The Mather Home, instead of in Glencoe, where we raised our kids.

After retiring from the store in 2013, and selling it to a local woman who wanted to “buy a bookstore,”  I found another exciting book opportunity – to be in on the founding of The American Writers Museum and bringing it to Chicago.    It officially opened in May of 2017, at 180 N. Michigan Avenue.   I am presently co-chair of the Board of Trustees.  The Museum is one of a kind – there is no other museum in this country that honors American writers in all the disciplines of writing , i.e.  authors, journalists, songwriters, poets, to mention a few.  It is being embraced as a national tribute to the heritage in this country of writing, reading, and the written word. An exciting place!

I love to read, of course, and I am still active as a tennis player, a walker and a runner.   I am now happy to add Authors Voice, an online interview program for authors and writers with new books, to my list of book related activities.  And,  I lead an occasional book club in the bookstore.     Books and book people are in my blood!!