I was eleven when Centuries and Sleuths bookstore opened near my house in Oak Park in 1990. The shop had something for each of my phases growing up. The cat-loving child rushed there for the latest “Cat Who” mystery. The budding teenage political activist went in search of Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States.” The 20-year-old Goth girl bought books about local haunts. Finally at 28, I walked in shyly holding bookmarks for my first novel and asked the owner, Augie Aleksy, if he would carry it. Even though it was neither history nor mystery, he accepted without hesitation because of our shared Forest Park ties.
In addition to exposing me to many different mysterious and historical worlds, Centuries and Sleuths bookstore brought me to Forest Park. After it relocated to Madison St., I began to explore the strip I’d previously associated with bars and the Army Surplus store that kept me in combat boots during high school. Ultimately, I decided that I wanted to call this growing, vibrant community home.
Centuries and Sleuths moved to Forest Park ten years ago. When I asked Augie why he left Oak Park, he said he was looking for a more affordable location where he could get better foot traffic. One of his customers told him about “some of the great plans that the business, finance, and government leaders of Forest Park had in mind for Madison Street” and gave him a business card for Art Jones, the vice president of Forest Park National Bank. Mr. Jones actually drove Augie around Madison St. to show him various properties and offer advice, acting as a good financial adviser and friend, even though the two had just met.
Augie says he never regretted the move to Forest Park. “The businesses here work well together,” he said. “They are creative, have dreams, imagination and are supportive of each other. They work and play together well, but are serious about the bottom line about what works and doesn’t. They are willing to change plans and ‘traditions’ when they aren’t working.” He also said the bank and the village work as partners with the businesses and “there is a good cooperative sense with the residents who are creative and see the benefit to a thriving business community in their village.”
This was part of what inspired me to move here four years after Centuries and Sleuths did. Our local businesses work so hard to make our town a destination worth visiting and keep residents entertained with street fairs and other events.
Every Saturday and Sunday next month, Centuries and Sleuths will provide history and mystery lovers with a reason to hit Madison Street. In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the store, Augie has put together 11 panels of authors and spread them out at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m each weekend in September. He hopes that the two-hour panels will function like a “nineteenth century salon and talk show with authors having conversations about writing and their experiences, inducing writers to do what they do best, tell stories.”
For some Forest Park-related stories, you may wish to see the panel with Ursula Bielski at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 4, as she has written about some of the haunted places in town. Luisa Buehler, who will be on a panel at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 25, has set one of her mysteries in Forest Park and mentioned Centuries and Sleuths.
The full line-up of authors is available at centuriesandsleuths.com. Let’s declare September history and mystery month in Forest Park and celebrate a great local business.
Stephanie is the author of “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” and “Ballads of Suburbia.” She’s a proud Forest Parker who holds a master’s in fine arts degree from Columbia College Chicago. She also works locally at the Beacon Pub and loves to hear from people through her Web site, www.stephaniekuehnert.com.