“No coffee, no knick-knacks, just books.”

After 50 years, the Seminary Co-op Bookstore had to leave its cherished home in the basement of the Chicago Theological Seminary.

This marked a pivotal and bittersweet moment in the life of what is widely regarded as the greatest academic bookstore in the world. Moreover, this came after a long period of time when many similar independent bookstores have suffered or been forced to close. The Co-op in its former incarnation embodied – both in the layout of its space and what filled it – the life of the mind and the ethos of its neighbor, the University of Chicago. The importance of the Co-op in the history of the University and for the greater Chicago and intellectual community has warranted a significant effort to document it before it began the next phase of its life, as well as to foster renewed interest in this valuable asset on the South Side of Chicago.

The goals of this project are to produce a historical archive of the Co-op – both visually and audio/written – and to capture a sense of its life, meaning, and importance.


  • Exhibition at the Special Collections Research Center

    Regenstein Library, 1100 E. 57th St.
    April 22-July 13, 2013

  • Curator Tours at the Special Collections Research Center

    June 6, 2013, 4-5pm
    June 9, 2013, 1:30-2:30pm

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  • Our most heartfelt thanks to Jack Cella, who has devoted the past 43 years to running a truly remarkable independent bookstore -- the Seminary Co-op -- and to serving its even more remarkable customers.

    The Hyde Park community may have made it possible for the Co-op to become what it has, but it was in no small part Jack who made it so. We hope you know our gratitude and our appreciation. Borrowing words from these participants in The Seminary Co-op Documentary Project:

    "Jack and others are just an unbelievable resource in terms of knowledge of the books. I don't know how many times I've walked in and I said, 'Jack, there's this book on such-and-such a topic, and I can't remember the author and I can't remember the title, can you help me find it?' And he finds it. Invariably." ~ Paul Schyve

    "One of the secrets of the success of the [Co-op] is the management. [Jack] is probably one of the hardest working book-men I know of. And that kind of caring about books is what also keeps me coming back. You feel a certain way when you go in there -- you feel the seriousness, you feel the love, you feel the caring...Jack is probably the only man in books, that I know, that works just as hard as I do!" ~ Haki Madhubuti

    We will miss you. And we promise to take care of your bookstore.

    Megan E. Doherty & Jasmine Kwong
    The Seminary Co-op Documentary Project
  • Article by the National Association of College Stores, May 10, 2013.
  • Article in the New City, May 9, 2013.
  • Co-op general manager Jack Cella gave us a shout-out in the Chicago Magazine, May 8, 2013. Thanks, Jack!
  • Article in the Medill Reports, May 1, 2013.

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Gifts & Grants

Special thanks to:

  • Uncommon Fund
  • Jack Spicer
  • Festival of the Arts 2012
  • Southside Preservation Action Fund
  • University of Chicago Communications

Project Directors

Jasmine Kwong is a portrait and event photographer and manages a psychology lab at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, where she is also a student in pursuit of an MBA. She received her BA with Honors from the same University in 2006. Born and raised in Hong Kong, China, she also spent part of her childhood in Montreal and Vancouver, Canada, and has been living in Chicago since 2002.

Jasmine & Megan

Megan E. Doherty is a Chicago-based writer and photographer who is passionate about long-form, humanistic storytelling – through both words and images. After a stint in Germany and earning her PhD with distinction from the University of Chicago Divinity School in 2010, she has focused her energy on in-depth journalism that matters. Coming by way of Long Island and Florida, Chicago is now her adopted home.