Brotman: Longtime owners of feminist bookstore ready to turn the page

Business partners relish having run Women & Children First for 34 years

Asked to recount some favorite memories from nearly 34 years of owning Women & Children First, Linda Bubon started laughing.

"She wants to ask while we can still remember!" she said to Ann Christophersen.

"You should have talked to us about 10 years ago," Christophersen said, grinning.

But there's nothing wrong with their memories. And it was last week that the business partners announced that they are going to sell Women & Children First, the iconic feminist bookstore and mainstay of Andersonville.

Longtime customers — including some men, Bubon and Christophersen are glad to say — have been stopping by, some tearful.

"I try to tell people not to think about sadness, but that 'Wow, these two gals are pretty clever; they figured out how to keep a sustainable business going,' " Bubon said.

It's just no longer sustainable by them.

"We just don't have the energy," said Christophersen, 64. "It's time for someone with new energy, with new ideas." She and Bubon, 62, are ready to retire.

But they remember it all, down to the orange shag carpeting and brown wood paneling in the bookstore they first opened on Armitage Avenue on Nov. 10, 1979.

"Oh, the shag carpeting," Christophersen sighed.

It was a feminist idea marketplace as well as a bookstore, with authors and events on topics ranging from feminist psychology to sexual politics to panel discussions of then-hidden subjects like sexual abuse.

Sitting at a wood table in the middle of the store, Christophersen and Bubon, who met as graduate students in English at the University of Illinois at Chicago, remembered the time Rita Mae Brown came to the Armitage Avenue bookstore to read from "Rubyfruit Jungle."

"She came in a mink coat down to her ankles. And it wasn't winter," Bubon said.

"She was lesbian glam," Christophersen said.

And there was Maya Angelou. The poet pulled up in a taxi on Halsted Street — the store had outgrown its space on Armitage — as Bubon and Christophersen waited out front, and awed them with her class.

"She gets out, grabs my hand and says, 'So you must be Ms. Bubon,' " Bubon said. "Then she takes Ann's hand and says, 'And you must be Ms. Christophersen. Thank you so much for having me.'

"Not only had she found out who we were, and taken the trouble of finding out who was who, but she used our formal names — and acted like we were doing her a favor," Bubon said.

And the hot July day in 1990 when the bookstore moved to Andersonville, having outgrown the Halsted Street space too.

They dismantled the Halsted Street store, transported the books, then set them up in the new store as quickly as possible. They couldn't afford to be closed for more than one day.

They couldn't have managed it themselves. But they didn't have to.