Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods are ripe for exploration, but students don’t need to travel far to visit Armadillo’s Pillow, just several blocks north of Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus in Rogers Park.
Betsy Boemmel opened the store in 1994 to sell handmade jewelry.
While Boemmel still sells her jewelry along with incense and folk and outsider art, the store’s main focus has become its collection of common and uncommon used books.
After 22 years of business, not much has changed. Before 2001, Armadillo’s Pillow included what are currently the main and rear sections.
In 2001, it expanded to include a side section that contains cozy seating options alongside the books.
Armadillo’s Pillow is one of two bookstores in Rogers Park that sells used books.
The other, Mustard Seed Christian Bookstore, is located on the corner of Sheridan Road and Broadway Street.
Both places sell used books, but Mustard Seed specializes in Christian texts, while Armadillo’s Pillow offers “a little bit of everything,” according to Mark Ebert, who became a co-owner of Armadillo’s Pillow after marrying Boemmel.
“It’s just books piled on books, but organized,” said Suzanne Meyerowitz, a resident of Rogers Park.
“It’s like something out of Harry Potter,” said Rogers Park resident Trinidad Cruz.
Meyerowitz and Cruz, who are dating, have lived in Rogers Park for about 10 years and are semi-frequent visitors to the store.
The couple said it’s easy to fall in love with the store for its charm and atmosphere.
“[The owners] don’t make you feel awkward if you’re just looking or enjoying their place,” said Meyerowitz.
To Ebert and Boemmel, fostering an atmosphere that people gravitate toward is important.
Ebert added that lengthy browsing and reading in the store is “how a used bookstore works.”
“We’re nothing if not a haven,” said Ebert.
Books at Armadillo’s Pillow are sold at low and competitive prices in an attempt to avoid manipulating people into buying.
The store does not have sales, special buy-one-get-one-free offers or membership cards.
“If you can afford to do that, then your prices are too high,” said Ebert. “We try not to play that game. We’ve experimented with ideas, but we try to be straightforward.”
Despite, or perhaps because of, avoiding discounts and competing with booming online book sales, Boemmel and Ebert continue to push on.
“There’s always going to be room for us, although there are a lot less of these bookstores around here than there used to be,” said Ebert. “It’s been rough; [technology] has definitely had its effect. But we’re stubborn; we keep coming in. And our customers rock; they keep coming in.”
Customers Cruz and Meyerowitz encouraged Loyola students to explore the area north of the Lake Shore Campus and go to Armadillo’s Pillow and other gems that have withstood the test of time.
“We probably don’t have the book you’re looking for, but we probably have a book you didn’t know you wanted,” said Ebert.
Armadillo’s Pillow is located at 6753 North Sheridan Road.