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Profiles Thu Jan 13 2011

Bookstore Profiles: Transistor


Name: Transistor
Location: 5045 N. Clark
Books: Mostly art, graphic design, film, travel, and a variety of locally-published
New/Used: New
History: Opened in October 2009

I had the pleasure of meeting Rani Woolpert and Andy Miles, the owners of Andersonville bookstore Transistor, after stumbling into their fine shop while hunting independent bookstores on the Northside. I was in search of any place willing to sell local, self-published items and serendipitously walked through their shop door. They were about to interview a local Steppenwolf actor for their weekly webcast "Transistor Radio." Before it began, I noticed Rani introducing herself to customers and audience members seated and eagerly awaiting the show. Somehow I convinced Rani and Andy not only to sell my self-published literary mag, but also to host an evening literary event for the magazine. They were immediately welcoming and offering their resources. Transistor is amazingly multi-faceted, equal parts gallery, museum shop, sound studio, performance space, movie theater, and classroom. Rani and Andy pull off a genuine, one-of-a-kind creation, a little artistic mecca on the Northside, guaranteed to challenge your typical bookstore shopping experience. During our brief interview, they helped me (and hopefully, you) understand what to expect when you visit Transistor, and peruse its appealingly unique selection.

Why did you choose the Andersonville neighborhood for your store?

T: We live in Andersonville. The evening we had the idea for the shop, we decided to take a walk and see if any storefronts were available in our neighborhood. We found a shop that needed much TLC but was within walking distance from our home. Beyond proximity, we also just really like Andersonville and the local shops and shopkeepers and wanted to be a part of the community here, to get to know others and support the artists who live and work here.

You have a very well-curated space and selection of books for sale. How do you select the books you sell?

T: Thanks. Initially, we decided on two publishers whose titles we really liked and seemed best suited to our interests-- Taschen and Phaidon. We reviewed their catalogs and basically just chose by instinct the books that most appealed to us and the types of books we wanted in our shop. The select list of publishers quickly grew, to include Laurence King, Black Dog Publishing (U.K.), Princeton Architectural Press, Chicago Review Press, Continuum, and several university presses, among others; finally, the list expanded on a title-by-title basis. We generally start with what interests us personally and consider, of course, what our customers might appreciate, as long as they are books that we would enjoy having in our personal collections.

What type of books would one find in your personal library?

T: Exactly the same as what we have in the shop-- books about music, film, painting, art history, fashion, architecture, industrial design, graphic design, city guides, biographies, and various related subjects. I'm currently facing our book shelf at home while I'm responding to this question and as I gaze at the shelf, I also see books on topics that interest both of us but that we don't stock at Transistor--philosophy, politics, history, and some literary classics (To Kill a Mockingbird, The Sound and the Fury, others.)

What's the best book you read in 2010?

T: Touching From A Distance: Ian Curtis and Joy Division

What were the best selling book titles sold in 2010 at Transistor?

T: (All titles are 2010 except where parenthetically noted)

1. Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne (2009)
2. Handmade Electronic Music: The Art of Hardware Hacking by Nicholas Collins (2009)
3. Just Kids by Patti Smith
4. Burlesque Poster Design: The Art of Tease by Chaz Royal (2009)
5. Thinking with Type: A Primer for Designers: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors & Students (2nd ed.) by Ellen Lupton
6. Life by Keith Richards
7. This is NPR: The First 40 Years by Susan Stamberg and Cokie Roberts
8. On Some Faraway Beach: The Life and Times of Brian Eno by David Sheppard (2009)
9. Pink Noises: Women on Electronic Music and Sound by Tara Rodgers
10. Swanlights by Antony & The Johnsons (with CD)
11. Talking to Girls About Duran Duran: One Young Man's Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut by Rob Sheffield
12. Typical Girls? The Story of The Slits by Zöe Street (2009)
13. Simple Diary Volume 1 by Philipp Keel (2009)
14. Detroit Disassembled by Andrew Moore and Philip Levine
15. Banksy Locations by Martin Bull (2009)

Your interests are vast! Tell us more about the space which serves as gallery, classroom, on-air studio, store, and still more. Why all of this under one roof?

T: When we started talking about the idea (it was a brief conversation; we committed to the lease the following afternoon and opened the shop seven weeks later), we discussed opening a shop that would serve as an art gallery, retail shop and performance space. We also talked about how it might be a cross between a museum and a museum gift shop, some of which I think has been retained. Neither one of us was interested in having a shop that would be confined to just one of any of the areas that interested us-- i.e., a book store, a record shop, or art gallery. We consider Transistor a "lifestyle shop" in which many areas of a person's interests-- music, books, art, film, fashion, electronics, even (locally crafted) furniture and other household goods, like clocks and lamps-- would be represented. Then within those areas, we curate the items that we want to offer, whether it be consignment items of our 50-some contributors or products we purchase wholesale at the corporate level (Numark, Korg, Alesis, Taschen, Phaidon, Kikkerland, WeSC, etc.). We occasionally come up with new ideas, or, just as often, let new ideas come to us (through our many contributors) and decide that because we own a shop and have the opportunity to carry out those ideas through our resources, space, etc, we might as well jump into them, if we think it is generally consistent with our overall vision and mission-- and the bottom line! Andy had the idea of starting a webcast which stemmed from his experience in broadcast production, and I decided to share my experience in art and design through a variety of available workshops. Our shop is really just an offshoot of who we are.

What kind of workshops are coming up? Anything for us literary-minded folk?

T: Currently we are focused on art and design workshops -- painting, drawing, graphic design and Adobe Photoshop, AfterEffects, Illustrator and InDesign. Unfortunately, we don't have anything planned specifically for writers.

So many of the art pieces and other work for sale represent local artists. Are you open to selling more local literature?

T: Absolutely! We do carry a few publications by local writers and would love to stock more. Some local authors whose work we carry include Nick Disabato (Cadence & Slang), Monte Beauchamp (Blab!), Nicolas Collins (Handmade Electronic Music), and Steve Tomasula, author of the novels The Book of Portraiture, IN & OZ (Ministry of Whimsy Press), VAS: An Opera in Flatland (University of Chicago Press), an acclaimed novel of the biotech revolution; and most recently, TOC: A New-Media Novel (FC2/University of Alabama Press). Please just send us an email if you are interested ( We can't guarantee that we'll have space or that the pieces submitted will be the right fit for the shop, but we're always open to new submissions.

What are your plans for 2011 and beyond?

T: More of the same, though over time we have grown, and we'll continue to grow and add more artists and try to find a spot for all of the things that interest us and for the artists we'd like to support, either through retail space or performance opportunites. Beyond? No big plans yet-- we like the size we are and our location. We're just happy to keep doing what we're doing, and we're thankful for the support from our contributors and shoppers. Thanks everyone! We'll plan more thank-you parties (usually we have one every six months). Hope to see you!

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