The Transitions Story

Opening our store, Transitions Bookplace & Cafe, has been a life changing miracle and a profound spiritual journey. It is hard to believe it all started on a weekend trip to New York City on Saturday, June 17, 1989. On our way to the theater, my husband and I noticed a tiny 200 square foot recovery bookstore. We were both impressed with the little shop because it carried spiritual titles as well as 12-step material. Both Howard and I were in different 12-step programs and were both disillusioned with our jobs, so we joked about opening our own bookstore.

The following Saturday, Howard and I were on a weekend getaway. While driving through Wisconsin, a drunk driver crossed four lanes of highway traffic, careened out of control and hit us head on. Our car was completely demolished. As the paramedics were wheeling me into the ambulance, Howard said it was at that moment that he vowed to give up commodity trading and open our own bookstore. I was rushed to the emergency room at a local hospital. After x-rays and numerous pokes and prods, I was given permission to go home. It was a miracle. Battered and bruised, we headed back to Chicago in a rental car. The entire way home we brainstormed and created a mental blueprint of our new store.

One month and one week later, on August 5, we opened our first little bookstore; 400 square feet – a former one car garage converted to retail. To us it was the Taj Mahal. We were excited. We had never even worked in a bookstore. We were flying by the seat of our pants.

The recovery community embraced us. We were all on a path of growth and transformation. As our customers evolved, so did our expanding categories. Within 19 months we had outgrown our first store, requiring us to lease a new 900 square foot space around the corner. The community helped us move and once again rallied around us. They put up with crowded aisles, merchandise packed to the ceiling and vicious ticket-writing meter maids.

Two years later, our second store was bursting at the seams. We took a leap of faith and hired the brilliant bookstore architects Ken White and Associates. Under their guidance we planned our dream store.

One year later we opened Transitions Bookplace & Cafe, a beautiful 6000 square foot store: cherry wood shelves, comfortable chairs, an inviting cafe, and plenty of free parking. Customers knocked on our doors while we unpacked boxes, begging to buy books. It was their confidence in us that gave us the courage to grow.

Our beautiful store has been open almost eight years. In that time, we have created a lecture series hosting authors three to four times a week, a paid bookclub membership boasting over 3500 members, and a Buddhist reading group.

People still stop and smile, reminiscing about our first bookstore. They remember when we worked the store ourselves before we had any employees. Now we have 25 employees who support and enhance our vision. Some customers even remember the day bestselling writer Julia Cameron (whose book The Artist’s Way we sold as a manuscript) took pity on us and relieved us behind the store counter so Howard and I could eat lunch.

I always tell customers when they say, “Thank you for being here – we love your store,” that it’s not our store, it’s God’s. We only hold the keys.

Gayle Seminara-Mandel