Highland Park, Community

New indie bookstore Secret World to join downtown Highland Park

Owners hope to own on Independent Bookstore Day, April 27

Books and Gayle Brandeis have been connected for a long time, and for the writer’s newest project, she’s taking it back to her oldest novel.

With husband Michael Brandeis, Gayle Brandeis is opening an independent bookstore and hobby shop in Highland Park. Secret World Books, 1774 2nd St., is named after a story she wrote, “The Secret World,” while a student at Lincoln Elementary School in Evanston.

“Secret World is meaningful in that way,” Gayle Brandeis said. “And I also feel that each book holds a secret world inside of it and each person holds a secret world. And the store can be a place to explore those secret worlds.”

The Secret World Books storefront, formerly occupied by the Christian Science Reading Room in Highland Park.

Secret World Books is taking over for the space recently vacated by the Christian Science Reading Room, about a block south of Central Avenue on 2nd Street.

Brandeis called the bookstore a dream come true; though, she didn’t think the dream would be realized so soon.

“The opportunity arose out of the blue,” she said. “The perfect space opened up in downtown Highland Park. The dream is coming true way earlier than we could have anticipated. Our intentions were for down the road, but we are really excited.”

An Evanston native, Brandeis said she’s been reading since she was 3 years old and writing since 4. She moved to Winnetka during her teenage years and graduated from New Trier High School before heading to California for college.

Brandeis — who is also an essayist, poet and educator — released her first novel “Self Storage” in 2007 and has published eight others. Her latest work, “Drawing Breath: Essays on Writing, the Body, and Loss,” came out in 2023.

Michael and Gayle Brandeis moved to Highland Park in 2022. She said Michael had begun collecting comics for an eventual retail venture. But the couple jumped at the opportunity when 1774 2nd St. opened up.

Gayle Brandeis said they loved the built-in bookshelves and the building’s mid-century style, which oddly enough, she said, matches the Brandeis family home.

Shelving and display cases inside Secret World Books space at 1774 Second St.

“The store feels like it could be annexed to our house. It’s even the same stone,” she said. “It feels like it was meant to be in that way.”

They have been hustling since acquiring the space in the hopes of opening by Saturday, April 27 — the 11th annual Independent Bookstore Day.

Brandeis said Secret World’s inventory will likely be made up of used books to start, while they acquire new titles. The books will lean literary in style with a focus on diverse and underrepresented voices and small presses, as well as products from local authors and artisans, she said.

The store will have a comics and hobby section, including tabletop games, headed by Michael Brandeis.

Secret World also will host community events, such as writing workshops, book clubs and gaming nights.

To find out more about Secret World Books, visit its Instagram and Facebook pages as well as information on Bookshop.org.

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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