The Hand Sell: Maxwell Gregory, Lake Forest Book Store

Lake Forest Book Store
Lake Forest Book Store
The manager of Lake Forest Book Store in Illinois talks impactful literature, bookstore trends, and memorable moments.By Celadon Staff

Maxwell Gregory, Manager Lake Forest Book StoreTell us about Lake Forest Book Store.

The Lake Forest Book Store is celebrating its 70th birthday this year. It was founded in 1949 by a group of local women who thought the town needed a book store. We moved to our current location three years ago, but have always been located on Western Avenue, in the heart of downtown Lake Forest.

What makes a great bookstore?

I think the most important role a bookstore has is to serve your community and engage your customers.  We pride ourselves on creating relationships with our customers and getting the right book into their hands. I love the fact that several generations of the same family shop in our store. Especially over the holidays, customers run into old friends and get to catch up with each other. It feels good to provide a warm and welcoming space for people to connect with each other.

What book has had the greatest impact on you?

I love Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea. I think this book is a timeless treasure that can be read year after year. It is a beautiful meditation drawn from Lindbergh's visit to Captiva Island in Florida.  She found solace in this wild place and drew inspiration from the beaches and shells she discovered there.

What book do you recommend most and why?

Currently, I have been recommending Graham Moore's The Last Days of Night. It is historical fiction, but it reads like a legal thriller. It is a fictional account of the legal battle between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse to control the future of electricity. It has been a hit with men, women, and lots of book clubs! I always love when I learn about a unique part of history from a book.

Last great book you read?

I stumbled upon a photography exhibit of Lee Miller's at the Art Institute of Chicago over 20 year ago and have been a fan of hers ever since. Needless to say, I was thrilled to read Whitney Scharer's book, The Age of Light, about Lee Miller's life in Paris with Man Ray. She was a fascinating woman and hopefully more people will learn her story through this wonderful book.

I also was lucky enough to read a manuscript of William Kent Krueger's This Tender Land, due to release in September. This beautifully written American epic takes you on a voyage and steals your heart. September can't come soon enough!

Favorite genre?

I tend to read mostly fiction, some mystery and memoirs.

Lake Forest Book Store Interior

What's the most unique or memorable thing that's happened at the bookstore?

I think the most memorable thing was when I received a phone call from a man in South Carolina. His mother had been one of the original founders of the store and he came across the original ledger from the founding of the store. He was so nice and mailed the book to us. It is a remarkable piece of history and we are lucky to have it.

What have been the biggest book trends at your bookstore in the past six months?

I would say the biggest trend would have to be customers realizing the value of shopping local. This holiday season, customers made a point to tell us that they were making an effort to shop local this year. Hopefully it will be a continuing trend. I have also found that every time an article comes out in local and national papers about independent bookstores, several customers go out of their way to bring copies in to us. It is so nice to see how much they care and want to see us continue to thrive.

Who are some of the local authors you've gotten to know or recommend?

We are lucky to have several authors who actually live in town. Rebecca Makkai and Katherine Reay are both local, and Katherine is a member of my book club. I have also enjoyed meeting and becoming friends with Renée Rosen and Mary Kubica.

What's the biggest surprise about working at a bookstore?

I would say, in a way, we have a huge impact on our customers. Selling a book to a customer goes beyond a typical retail transaction; you really have to engage them to discover what they are looking for that day.  I love when they come back to tell me how they liked the book. The best experience is when you help a parent find the right book for a child who is struggling, or "doesn't like to read" and they show up a few days later with a big smile excited to find another book to read. It is very satisfying.

I also find it amusing that people assume we read on the job. It is part of the job, and I do read a lot but not at the store.

Your all-time favorite bookstore? What makes it so special?

Without a doubt, Shakespeare and Company in Paris. I have been lucky enough to visit the store several times. I think its history is what makes it special. It is a unique and wonderful place, and anyone who visits Paris should plan to stop by.

Visit Lake Forest Book Store at 662 N. Western Avenue, Lake Forest, Illinois; online at

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