Stuart Brent, 1912-2010
Stuart Brent, who for fifty years personified independent bookselling in Chicago, died Thursday at the age of 98. He attended the University of Chicago where he earned a degree in education before service in the Army in World War II. After the war he opened a small bookshop on Rush Street that he called the Seven Stairs, for the number of steps it took to descend to its door.
A few years later he moved to a larger space at 670 North Michigan Avenue which became the Chicago readers’ destination Stuart Brent Books. The ground floor was stocked with a well-crafted selection of literary fiction, art books, and essential non-fiction, with a tilt toward titles in psychology and psychoanalysis. The lower level was devoted to children’s books.
He was a bookseller of the most independent sort: well-read, opinionated, and willing (or more) to shape his customers’ reading habits. Over the course of his fifty years in the business, bookselling became ever more concentrated in the mall stores, superstores, and virtual stores of billion dollar corporations. The books stocked in Stuart Brent Books were chosen by a personality, not an algorithm.
Brent was also an author: of Seven Stairs, a memoir of his early years in bookselling (still in print) and of a series of books for children.