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A Day in the Life of
Qvimby's Book Store
by Sherri Gionet

When Steven showed up on my doorstep five-and-a-half years ago talking about opening a bookstore in Chicago, I never imagined how my life was going to change. But here I am with a husband, a daughter, two cats, one dog and a store. We haven't had a real vacation in five years but we're not slaving for the man and can read all the comics we want for free! That's almost like living a vacation in my book.
Qvimby's has given me the opportunity to view life from broader perspectives than I previously knew existed. It's like being on a sociological roller coaster watching pop and fringe culture evolve before my eyes. I've met people from all walks of life who have nothing in common but the desire to see, know, share, or be surprised by something different. The variety of personalities to be found in Qvimby's on a busy afternoon is mind boggling; hair of all shapes and colors, body decor, suitcoats, ties, lawyers, police, medical personnel, dog owners, baby strollers, intellectuals, cads, old & young, the paranoid and the politically irate, and then some. It's quite a dazzling array of the human spectrum.
The first two people to browse Qvimby's shelves when we opened back on September 15, 1991, left the store in a huff because they were offended by the Outlaw's Bible. This book, they said, took the Bible's name in vain. Going beyond the semantics, I found this very frightening.
Better yet, two years ago we wanted a new door. I found a door company in the Yellow Pages and a man came to give us an estimate. He looked a bit like Mr. Rogers and spent about 15 minutes measuring this and that and, without having stepped more than three feet into the store, he says to me, "I would be afraid to work here." Assuming an unspoken if I were you, I laughed in a humoring way and replied, "No, it's quite fun." But he just repeated himself and added "You're anti-Christian, aren't you?"
Surprised by this assertion, I explained to him that the store has information about all kinds of things and that we even sell J. Chick tracts, which are religious comics. To this he responded by pointing to the mural over the register (which is a cartoon painting of fish by Gary Leib and Doug Allen) and with a sweeping gesture of his arm told me, "This is Satanic art. It's all this free thinking stuff that is breaking down the American family."
He left without telling me how much a new door would cost. He was out of sight before I could sort through the million and one retorts that flooded my mind, which was best since, without provoking him in any way, I still had nightmarish fantasies for weeks that he was recruiting hoards of self-righteous religious zombies to come and fire bomb our "evil" store.
I was pregnant at the time. Steven and I are raising our now two-year-old daughter, Madeline, in the store. It's an extension of our home. We've been very lucky to be able to keep her with us and not have to juggle parenting with daycare and babysitters. She has many friends who come to visit while their parents' shop and we even keep a crib in the store for afternoon naps. Her exposure to people and the world is reflected in her comfortable, cheerful and independent personality. It's a joy to have her around.
Regarding "family values," I cannot imagine a better atmosphere in which to grow and learn. Qvimby's environment is open and exploratory. It is only because the store would allow us to be the kind of parents we are that Steven and I dove into family life at all. I would not have brought a child into this world if my only options were to herd it through society's institutions to learn to become a good little factory worker.
We are somewhat cocooned here at Qvimby's which is why it is especially disconcerting to experience the fear and ignorance of Mr. Joe Door and the Bible lovers. Being surrounded by "inquiring minds" and situated in the heart of Hipsville USA has softened my defenses somewhat. I know Madeline will one day have to experience bigotry and the sheep for herself, but by then her foundations will be strong and her perceptions keen. May she learn to be wary of ignorance and to develop her own opinions from as varied sources as can be found.
Speaking of sources, another pleasant aspect of working at Qvimby's is the appreciation expressed by self publishers for carrying their stuff, especially those too small or specialized to be carried by a distributor, and thus, the happy customer who finds such nuggets. The networking and support amongst zine people is indeed impressive enough to renew a person's faith in humanity, almost. I'm very proud to be a part of Qvimby's.

This article originally appeared the Qvimby's Magalog, available from Qvimby's. Sherri and Steven sold the store in 1997 and moved with Madeline to Amsterdam. Copyright 1996 Sherri Gionet. Posted with permission.

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