Polonia Bookstore, which they claim as the largest Polish bookstore in the US on Tuesday January 25, 2011. (William DeShazer/ Chicago Tribune)

Polonia Bookstore, which they claim as the largest Polish bookstore in the US on Tuesday January 25, 2011. (William DeShazer/ Chicago Tribune) (January 23, 2011)

Polonia Bookstore, America's largest Polish-American bookstore, according to its website, is in Chicago's Jefferson Park neighborhood. In 1986 Polonia relocated to its 10,000-square-foot space with the intention of being a cultural touchstone for the city's Polish community.

"The idea was to make the place as a center of Polish culture," said owner Mira Puacz, whose late husband, Edward, a journalist and social activist, started Polonia a little more than 40 years ago. The store retains its cultural distinction with an Old World feel, found in accessories such as pewter lamps suspended from the ceiling and the baby grand piano where children's concerts are held. The store also has modern twists, such as the cafe that abuts the travel agency in the adjacent room. Twin octagonal skylights illuminate the roomy space. Half of the titles are fiction, according to Puacz, and the majority of the titles are in Polish. There is a children's section, racks of maps, biographies, historical titles and Polish greeting cards. Puacz said she believes in the necessity of books: "They are a tool for the imagination. If (the new generation) doesn't read, it will be a disaster."

Visit: Polonia Bookstore, 4738 N. Milwaukee Ave., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday; 773-481-6968, polonia.com