It is not hard to miss “Squeeze Box Books” south of Dempster on Chicago Avenue, but entering the store’s nicely designed space can lead to a number of interesting discoveries.
What catches one’s eye might be a lavishly illustrated version of Dante’s “Inferno,” an early edition of Henry Miller’s “The Tropic of Cancer,” or an illustrated set on the history of freemasonry. On the next shelf might be a 1914 book about paranormal phenomena called “The Unknown Guest” that in its opening pages announces, “It is now undisputed that ghosts are real.”
On the music side, the shop might have rare records by the Tangerine Zoo, the Beatles, Oasis or Phish, as well as new records by such artists as Mumford and Sons, My Morning Jacket or Kendrick Lamar.
The proprietor is Tim Peterson, who has lived in Evanston since 2000 and been in the secondhand music business for 25 years. He owned Hi-Fi Records just off Central Street near Prairie Joe’s restaurant from 2003 to 2006. “At that time, independent sellers came under a lot of pressure due to the switch from CDs to downloading,” Mr. Peterson said. But a resurgence in records has helped bring small businesses back.
He much prefers having a brick-and-mortar store to merely selling merchandise online. He thinks that in an age when words and music are often transmitted through the air, people have come to appreciate the more tactile experience of holding a book or record jacket.
“The classics always sell, from the Beatles to Jorge Luis Borges, Nirvana to Anais Nin, Tame Impala to Tolkien,” Mr. Peterson said. “But we have a very eclectic range of things, some of which people may not have known about before they came in.”
The name “Squeeze Box” is a reference to the compact nature of the store and its owner’s love of accordion music, an interest he recognizes is a little “off the beaten path.”
Mr. Peterson sees himself as someone who is a curator of both niche and trendy markets, offering items from valuable artists whose work might otherwise become extinct. He seems passionate about items that might reside at the “outer reaches” of mainstream culture but which remain fascinating or beautiful nevertheless.
The emporium has a cozy feel because it is not stacked to the rafters with merchandise and offers a pleasant browsing experience. Mr. Peterson often reorganizes the displays based on themes like “banned” books or “Star Wars.” Except for the new records, most selections are priced from $5 to $10.
Patrons can find offbeat comics, collections of unusual magazines, pulp mystery paperbacks from the ’50s and ’60s, or a signed book by Norman Mailer or Ray Bradbury.
In addition, they might run across cult movies and records that might only have been released on “Record Day,” which happens every April. He said that Record Day always produced big turnouts because of special records that are only sold on that day and other related promotions.
While Mr. Peterson does visit book and music shows, most of his stock consists of used items brought into his store from people who may be running out of space or are cleaning out their attics.
Squeeze Box is an intellectual and sensory adventure. Customers wandering in may find something they never realized they were always looking for.