Niles family to renovate formerly vacant building into bookstore, art gallery
Published 10:11 am Tuesday, May 14, 2019
NILES — A formerly vacant building is about to embark on a new chapter after a Niles family decided to restore it and turn it into a bookstore and art gallery.
While the name of the business is still tentative, Casperson Books and Art will feature a unique spread of rare books as well as local art.
The business, located at 302 Broadway St., will be operated by Al and Linda Casperson and their daughter, Christina Casperson. The targeted opening date for the business is sometime in July.
The family’s inspiration for the bookstore was motivated by a bit of proximity. Al and Linda, a city clerk for the city of Niles, live next door to the vacant building.
“We watched this building [as] it stood empty for so long,” Linda said. “One day, Al said to me, ‘I’ve been kind of thinking about that building next door.’”
The family decided to look at it, and that is when they saw a vision for the new Niles bookstore taking shape.
The roughly 1,300-square-foot space, comprised of multiple rooms, will offer gently used old and rare books for all ages and across a variety of genres.
“A lot of the books here will be unusual,” Al said. “Stuff you don’t see every day.”
In one of the rooms inside the building, Christina will run an art gallery featuring her art as well as the art of other locals. In the basement of the building, Christina said she hopes to offer open sessions for art professionals eventually.
“It’s not going to be your typical art with landscapes,” Christina said. “Trying to help people expand their mind beyond the normal.”
Christina has created works of art for bands across Chicago, businesses and through her role as a former forensic artist with the Niles Police Department. Last year, Round Barn asked her to create art for their Russian Stout beer called Catharsis.
Al said he is excited for more people in the community to get connected with local artists through the business.
“Now, people who are decent little artists can come here and have a place to be,” Al said. “Niles can come become a little more involved in that aspect.”
Al is a careful cultivator of unique books. A number of the books Al plans to put on display were also collected by his father, Ralph Casperson, who owned a bookstore on Niles-Buchanan Road starting in 1964.
From 2011 to 2015, Al sold books at A. Casperson’s Books in Niles. At the time, Al was balancing another job. He also said the store did not earn enough to hire someone full-time, so he regretfully decided to close. Al is now retired and will have the help of his family to run the new bookstore and art gallery.
Linda, who will handle business elements of the bookstore and gallery, added that it seemed like the right time to dive into the business venture.
“We saw that things are changing in this town and this corner is a good investment for us,” Linda said.
Within the past year, Third and Broadway streets have seen a variety of new businesses taking root including Iron Shoe Distillery, new residential facility Berkshire Niles, the renovation of the Elk’s building into the Grand LV and work to create Gabrizio Italian Bakery and Café.
Al played a pivotal role in helping Shelf Life Community Bookstore to get its start. The bookstore, located at 223 N. Fourth St., is run by volunteers and benefits the Niles DDA Main Street and Niles District Library. Late last year, Al opened a Collector’s Room inside the bookstore, where people could find rare and unique books. Al said that he has donated that collection to Shelf Life.
In the coming weeks, the family will continue preparations to restore the mid-century-style building. They said other than some touch-ups and repairs to the roof, no major work has been required. The building was once an office for a former judge and also served as a doctor’s office.
“The building was just tired and dated,” Al said. “It’s not like we are modernizing — we are bringing it back to what it was.”
Once in operation, the family hopes to also make the books available for purchase online. Christiana’s art can be found online at xnaart.com.
The family said they look forward to bonding through the work to run the bookstore together.
“It’s an exciting business,” Al said. “It’s exciting to find books. I will go to garages and basements, spooky places — that’s where this stuff comes from. With Christina, she’s giving something to the community to enjoy that it doesn’t have.”