Our Story

Secret World Books is a near life-long dream come true for both Gayle and Michael Brandeis.

Gayle has always been in love with books–she taught herself to read at three years old and started writing poems at four. She’s deeply grateful she’s been able to craft her life around the written word as an award-winning writer and teacher of writing (you can learn about her books and other writings at www.gaylebrandeis.com). She’s wanted to own a bookstore ever since she and her sister set up a tv tray in front of their apartment building and hawked hand-sewn books and other crafts until they were shut down by their landlord.

Michael worked at a comic book store as a teenager, and fantasized about owning his own some day. He recently started collecting comics again with an eye toward opening a comic book store sometime in the distant future. That timeline sped up exponentially when Gayle and Michael noticed the beautiful building that housed the Christian Science Reading Room in downtown Highland Park was vacant. They peered in the window and their jaws dropped. The mid century space was filled with gorgeous built in shelves, and the pink and orange stone wall was identical to their fireplace at home—it almost looked as if the place was an annex of their house, like it was just waiting for them to come home. And then they saw the piece de resistance: the building had a private garden in the back.

A secret garden.

One of Gayle’s favorite books as a child was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. She loved it so much, it inspired her first “novel”, The Secret World, when she was eight years old. Her teacher at Lincoln Elementary in Evanston bound the book and installed it in the school library—with its own card in the card catalog!—giving Gayle her first taste of being a published author. She brought this up as she and Michael gazed upon the secret garden, and he said “Why don’t we name this place Secret World?” (because how could they not turn this place into the bookstore of their dreams?) The name felt perfect not only for the connection to Gayle’s childhood book, but also because each book holds a secret world in itself. Each person does, too. At Secret World Books, Gayle and Michael want people to feel free to open up both.

The building that houses Secret World was originally built across the street in 1953. When the Port Clinton Square shopping and office complex was in the works in the 80s, the developers wanted to buy out the Christian Science Reading Room and tear it down, but the church refused and demanded the city move the building instead. Gayle and Michael like to imagine it floated across the street via balloons, a la the movie Up, and love that the building has a history of resistance and resilience. They want to keep that tradition of resistance and resilience alive at Secret World, standing up to book bans and other forces that want to tear necessary stories from readers’ hands.

They also want Secret World to be a site of healing. Gayle and Michael moved to Highland Park in late July of 2022, not long after the horrific mass shooting. Gayle hadn’t lived in the Chicago area since she moved away for college in 1986—her return felt deeply meaningful, and she wanted to find ways to be of service to her new/old community that had suffered such profound trauma. She and Michael both want Secret World to be a place where people feel safe, where people feel inspired, where people can have fun, where people can learn, where people can connect, where people can be their truest selves. They are excited to offer readings and workshops and game nights and other events, and look forward to creating a not-so-secret community of book lovers, writers, comics enthusiasts, gamers, activists, artists, vintage aficionados, and other wonderful weirdos. Here’s to sharing our secret worlds!

Visit Us

1774 2nd St
Highland Park, Il 60035
(847) 469-4875

Wed – Sat: 11am – 5pm
Sun: 12pm – 4pm
Mon – Tue: Closed

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