SMALL-BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT: O'Gara & Wilson, Chesterton

2013-09-15T04:00:00Z SMALL-BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT: O'Gara & Wilson, ChestertonAndrea Holecek Times Correspondent
September 15, 2013 4:00 am  • 

CHESTERTON | Chicago's oldest bookstore is becoming Chesterton's newest.

O'Gara & Wilson Ltd., is moving to its new location after making its home in Hyde Park for more than a century.

Owner Doug Wilson said the relocation will keep the business alive.

“We’re moving because we have tried for a long time to keep open,” said Wilson, who owns the store with his wife. “We’ve struggled, like a lot of small businesses, to keep the ball rolling to pay salary and overhead, but we’ve been unable to do it in that location.”

Unlike in Chicago, Chesterton is providing the bookstore with everything it needs to be a success, plus it means a 50 percent reduction in the store’s overhead, he said.

“We’re in a very lovely location on Main Street where there’s been revitalization over the last 10 to 15 years,” Wilson said. “It’s a very vibrant commercial situation there; businesses seem to be doing very well.”

Plus, the town’s European market brings hundreds of people to the area's shops on weekends, and they all benefit from the influx, he said. And unlike in Chicago, parking is free and plentiful.

As an antiquarian bookshop, O'Gara &Wilson Ltd., had served Hyde Park and students and professors at the University of Chicago from 1913 until its closure in June. Wilson was partner in the shop and worked there for 15 years before he bought it outright when Joseph O’Gara, its founder, retired in 1995.

But as the years passed, Wilson found it harder and harder to stay afloat.

“Changes in the book trade and the cost of doing business in the city of Chicago were greater than our income in sales,” Wilson said. “We supplemented it for a while with personal money, hoping it would be a rough spot that we could get over, but it’s gone on too long and we’ve established a location where it’s more doable.”

The University of Chicago was the reason the bookstore survived in Hyde Park for so long, but people, even students, don’t amass the “significant personal libraries” as they have in the past, Wilson said.

“In the University of Chicago neighborhood we once had a lot of professors and graduate students buying books,” he said. “The younger-generation customers don’t have the tendency to put together large personal libraries. They depend on reprints, the Internet, and Internet resources. And our older customers are moving.”

The change in the culture of information distribution also is a factor in the store’s relocation. Internet book sales and used book sales have taken business away from the traditional bookseller, Wilson said.

“There are thousands of people around country selling books online,” he said. “Our potential margin has to be shared with those people.”

Moving his store to Chesterton also saves Wilson time.

“I’ve been computing for more than 20 years,” he said. “It’s another plus, not spending two hours and $4 on gas a day to get to work. That’s going to be a welcome change.”

Although Hyde Park is a fascinating area, Wilson said the myriad benefits of moving to Chesterton outweigh any nostalgia for it.

“Chesterton is very cordial to business,” he said. “I think we’ll have a much better relationship with city government here. I’ve lived here 20 years and know and love this community and know we’ve a good spot here. We’ve very excited about it.”

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