Stephanie Hochschild prepares for new role at The Book Stall

If a predisposition to love literature were genetic, Stephanie Hochschild would be a gene carrier. Her mother is a librarian at the National Library of Medicine in her hometown of Bethesda, Md., and her aunt was a high school librarian in Florida. Her grandmother loved books, too.


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Now, Hochschild can add another line to that literary pedigree: new owner of The Book Stall at Chestnut Court, the stalwart independent bookstore in Winnetka that won last year's Publisher's Weekly Bookstore of the Year award.

"It has been a lifelong dream," said Hochschild, 49, of owning a bookstore. "Whenever (my family) travels, we always make a point to visit whatever local bookstore there is and I always leave with something in my hand. I admire people's books in their homes. Books are something I have been drawn to my whole life."

When Roberta Rubin, 30-year owner of The Book Stall, announced her retirement little more than a year ago, the timing was perfect for Hochschild. Her children are older — Katie, 16; Nicky, 14; and Lexy, 12 — meaning she has hours and energy to dedicate to the store.

"It is going to be a family project," she said. "Everybody is excited."

Hochschild, who trained as a lawyer but doesn't practice anymore, read voraciously as a child. She spent so much time buried in books that her mother had to ration her reading time.

"Otherwise all I would do was read," she said. "I would have my bag of books and I could read for a certain amount of time and then I would have to go do something else."

A devotion to books and appreciation for literary knowledge is integral to a bookstore's success, said Nancy Randall, a Book Stall employee for more than a decade.

"I personally don't feel you can work in a bookstore and not love reading," she said, "and Stephanie reads as much as any of us."

When Hochschild put her mind to purchasing The Book Stall, she also put her back into it. Since the fall, she has been working gratis at the store and at off-site events to gain more bookselling experience.

"To say you want to buy a bookstore and then not work in one, it just didn't make sense. And that was what was happening with the other (bidders)," Rubin said. "They had this pie in the sky, romantic concept of what owning The Book Stall was like. It is hard work, and Stephanie saw that."

Like a CEO working her way up from the mail room, Hochschild soaks up tips of the trade from her colleagues.

"She is learning from the ground up," Jon Grand, the store manager, said. "She is a real creative and strategic thinker and she is applying those skills to what she is learning and seeing what works, what could be improved and where there might be some new opportunities."

Part of the appeal of the Book Stall and other independent bookstores is the personal touch: the bookseller who spends time matching reader to book. Hochschild promises to continue to nurture that skill with her staff.

Susan Gottlieb, a Wilmette resident and Book Stall regular, recently leaned on Hochschild for help finding a book. She came away with what she needed — and a great impression.

"From my perspective," she said, "Stephanie is a perfect fit."

And yet Rubin's influence is felt in every corner of the Book Stall. On a recent Wednesday, one of the book clubs that meets at the store toasted her with sparkling cider.

"I can't walk out (on the floor) without a flood of people saying things like, 'I can't imagine this place without you,' and I think some of that (is) that they just want to see the store stay (open)," Rubin said.

Hoschchild isn't hurrying into too many changes. She hopes to expand the community that has built up around the Book Stall into the digital frontier: "I want to enhance (the store's) presence on social media."

As for Rubin, the bookseller hopes to become a book writer. She has a lot planned for her upcoming free time, including hopefully a stab at penning her own stories.

Courtney Crowder covers the local literary scene for Printers Row Journal.