Uncharted Books heads into familiar territory in Logan Square

(Anna Holmquist/for RedEye )
April 06, 2012|By Anna Holmquist, for RedEye

It's time to put Logan Square's latest bookstore on the map.

Uncharted Books, located just north of the square at 2630 N. Milwaukee Avenue, is the brainchild of Tanner McSwain, an erstwhile McGraw Hill employee who left his job to pursue his entrepreneurial dreams.

The idea of starting a used bookstore had always been in the back of McSwain's head, and he said it was always more as a distant fantasy than a plan.

"I didn't have much experience [with bookstores] besides hanging out in them constantly," he said. "It sounded like it would be fun, but unfeasible."

Things changed once he heard that Borders was going out of business. He started doing research and talking to other people in the industry, where he received a lot of good advice and information.

After speaking with a slew of business owners and friends, he decided to make a go of it.

McSwain set up a fund to raise money to start the business. McSwain set his goal at $10,000, and the project funded within six days.

"On my birthday, actually," he said with a laugh. "I think [the idea] kind of spoke to people."

He ended up raising $12,572 from an online campaign, from 271 people who donated money.

McSwain promoted his project almost entirely through social media. He had some help from a few big names on Twitter.

"Neil Gaiman retweeted it," he said, adding that the band Superchunk also retweeted his campaign to their followers. "A lot of the contributors ended up not being local," he said.

McSwain decided to set up shop in Logan Square because he loves the neighborhood, having moved there in 2008.

"This neighborhood has given me so much over the past few years," he said. "What don't I love about Logan Square? I love that it feels like a small town in a big city. I think it's very kind to small businesses. I like the people that live here. There's just something about this neighborhood and I can't quite put my finger on it. It's the only place in Chicago for me."

McSwain's vision for the store is to have it be a community center. It offers free wireless Internet, and there are vintage couches, chairs and tables throughout the store. Patrons are invited to bring in coffee and snacks and read, write or socialize.

McSwain said he wants to plan recurring events at the bookstore. There have already been several readings, as well as a Tumblr party, which saw about 250 attendees.

One of them, Max Temkin, said he has already become a regular at Uncharted Books, hosting a game night each Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m.

"Tanner's a very good host to us," he said. "I loved used bookstores. They're kind of a dangerous place for me to hang out. Uncharted is so much worse than the usual bookstore for me," he said, adding that because McSwain handpicks the books, there is a great selection."

"Every time I go in, I see 10 books I want to buy," he said.

So far, McSwain is the one and only employee of Uncharted Books, though he said he's had a lot of help from his girlfriend and friends.

"It's been an adventure for sure," he said. "I don't mind working all day every day. I feel like it's for Logan Square." He admits it sounds cheesy, but he says that providing this space for the neighborhood is rewarding.

Beginning in this month, McSwain plans to hold regular salons. These events, modeled after French literary salons, will have a few featured readers and then open the floor for attendees to read their work or perform music.

"I think what's more important to me than books are stories," McSwain said. "I'm for stories in whatever medium. Books are my personal favorite medium to share stories. [Uncharted Books] is about hopefully becoming a part of other people's stories."

For more information on selling or donating books, go to unchartedbooks.com.

Anna Holmquist is a RedEye special contributor

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