Friday, January 09, 2009

An ode to Aiko's

In my Chicago years, naturally I came to know Aiko's, a Japanese bookbinding-supply store with a museumlike presence on North Clark Street. The minimalist exterior hinted at nothing special; you had to stop and take in the tiny window displays to really understand that this, in fact, was a store. One you could even enter.

Inside it was pure beauty and, usually, solitude — maybe another reason why Aiko's didn't or couldn't stay open. The papers, full sheets unlike the halves now offered by so many other retail operations, lay stacked in shelves, every one a riot of color and pattern. When unfurled on the long tables, they crackled visually like fireworks in the neutral surroundings.

The bookcloth, that utilitarian fabric that makes a book function, flowed from bolts in every color but heavy on the jewel tones: crimson magenta, bright mossy green, a shimmery gold. I would save up for the silks, and buy by the quarter yard.

Despite having left the Midwest more than 14 years ago, I looked forward to placing phone orders every year or so. First, I'd fondle the swatchbook, then call and imagine the phone ringing in the quiet shop, and then the bright, breath-y woman would answer.

The Aiko's site now refers its customers to another supplier of Japanese bookcloth, but there's a 5-yard minimum, so the color had better be the one you wanted. I went scrummaging for my swatchbook, wondering if it would still apply.

Oddly, the date Aiko's closed is the day Roy was born, so perhaps our son brings with him a reincarnation of that store's gorgeous Japanese style and presentation. One can hope.



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