The scent of used books and incense greets visitors to the Armadillo Pillow. Jewelry, greeting cards, and hand-made art fill the front of the store. Mountains of books emerge as you walk deeper into the stacks. A comfortable purple rocking chair invites children to their section, where story times are held.
Betsey Boemmel opened the store in 1994, creating a go-to bookstore right and gathering place in the heart of Rogers Park.
She took the name for the store from “A Prayer for Owen Meany,” a John Irving novel. The book is about a taxidermy armadillo who is the prized possession of a group of kids. Boemmel said the used books are like the armadillo.
“We were thinking about this thing, some symbol of reciprocity, and how used books are everybody’s books,” she said.
Its unique name reflects the store’s distinct character. Every wall and corner is crowded in colorful books, on a wide variety of subjects, from religious, to non-fiction, to folktale.
The wide selection of books is the heart of the store. But Boemmel also sells handmade jewelry, greeting cards, stickers, and much more.
“That was always sort of my vision that I was already making this stuff, and we’re going to do books and art together. From the beginning we already had this concept” Betsey said.
She said not everyone comes to the store for books.
“They still want some part of the store, a part of the experience,” she said
The Armadillo’s uncommon structure is another one of its quirky features.
A particularly alluring spot in the store is near the children’s section. Up a few steps, where fiction books are shelved, is a nearly-hidden hidden chair where a reader can get lost in their book without distraction.
When you finally pick the book of your choice, you feel very much at home. The atmosphere of this bookstore is very comforting.
While the homey Armadillo bookstore is a favorite in Rogers Park, unique bookstores like it are disappearing across the nation, Boemmel said. Online booksellers and e-readers have driven many stores to lose business. But Boemmel believes that the growth of the digital world has made some people want to choose print books even more.
“People made a choice and they doubled down on their love for print and books, so there’s hope for our future (speaking for the bookstore).” she said “I don’t ever think that’s there’s going to be a point, where people forget what a book is, that a book isn’t a thing anymore”
Boemmel explained that, while she is not a fan of E-readers, she understands why some like the option.
“There’s a reason for Ebooks, and I’ve read books on E-reader,” she said. “It’s okay if you can’t find a book you need to read … I don’t love it as an experience. I like to read a book, I like the physical part of a book.”
She added, with a laugh, that “there’s something about owning the physical thing like it’s my book”
Armadillo bookstore is the place to be in when you have to unwind. The atmosphere, the overwhelming amount of books, everything about it is comforting. You can find them at 6753 N Sheridan Rd, Chicago, IL 60626.