Volumes Bookcafe: An Open Community

Photo by  Elmer Martinez

Rebecca and Kimberly George are two sisters who once dreamt about opening up a bookstore. Both sisters have master’s degrees and are certified to teach, but they have focuses in different areas. Kimberly’s foundation is rooted in theatre and working with younger children while Rebecca’s is focused primarily on English and teaching high school and college students. This is why their passion for Volumes is so strong. As former teachers, they deeply understand the benefits and difficulties of the American education system, recognize the needs that the Chicago Public Schools have, and are actively working on giving young people resources and spaces that help them feel empowered and comfortable. Due to their hard-work and ambition, they were able to create something that encompassed their visions of what a bookstore should look and feel like.

Photo by  Elmer Martinez

Volumes Bookcafe was founded on a love for books and community. The store sits on the consistently hectic Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park, an area known for its coffee shops, consignment stores, and trendy brunch spots. I was hired with the first wave of employees when the shop first opened in March of 2016. The immediate reaction to the store was phenomenal; people kept commenting on how beautiful the store looks, its selection, and most importantly, how smart the idea of including a cafe is. It not only serves coffee, but beer, wine and cider, too. Volumes is a hit, but my appreciation for it stems from a slightly different perspective; I am moved by the owners' dedication for their community and the people that are a part of it.

Volumes is surrounded by coffee shops, used bookstores, and other niche indie bookstores in the area, but what draws people in and what makes it so special is the warmth it exudes. The sisters and staff work very hard to make sure it remains inviting and open, while also being, as Rebecca says, a “prolific mainstay of the literary world of Chicago.”

The way the Volumes staff works together is similar to how a family functions. This is because both Kimberly and Rebecca have a lot of love for their family and built the store as a family project. Since they are so family-oriented, Volumes is naturally a hot spot for families. They have already had children’s workshops and they hold weekly storytime sessions every Wednesday and Saturday morning. “We would love to offer additional programs for the neighboring schools, camps, classes, birthday parties, [and] books clubs,” says Kimberly.

With different author readings, discussions, monthly women’s comedy showcases, celebrations, and other endeavors that typically support small businesses and local writers, Volumes is constantly stirring something up for the community to enjoy and it’s exactly what Chicago needs.

The night after the election, Rebecca emailed me at midnight asking if I wanted to host an impromptu open mic so the community could be comforted by strangers while also sharing their thoughts and writings. Of course I said yes.

This impromptu open mic, or otherwise known as, An Open Community, was Volumes’ entire purpose and message. This is what Volumes stands for, what they believe in, and what they are actively working to amplify.

Kimberly and Rebecca George started Volumes because they wanted to give everyone a home of some kind—a place where people can come and feel comforted, where there will be light all around and hot chocolate with marshmallows in the front. At Volumes, there is no judging. There is no intimidation or pretentiousness—no explicit hierarchies or aggression. It exists as a place for anyone and everyone because at the end of the day Rebecca reiterates, “books make people happy.”