Kroch's and Brentano's

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Kroch's and Brentano's
FoundedNovember 22, 1954; 65 years ago (1954-11-22) in Chicago
FounderCarl Kroch
DefunctJuly 31, 1995; 25 years ago (1995-07-31)
Area served
Chicago metropolitan area
ProductsBooks, magazines

Kroch's and Brentano's was the largest bookstore in Chicago, and at one time the largest privately owned bookstore chain in the United States. The store and the chain were formed in 1954 through the merger of the separate Kroch's bookstore with the former Chicago branch of the New York-based Brentano's bookstore.[1] The chain was closed in 1995 after suffering financial losses from increased competition.


Adolph Kroch, an Austrian immigrant to Chicago, founded a German-language bookstore on Monroe Street in 1907. He switched to English-language books during World War I. A few years, later he moved the store to a larger location at 22 N. Michigan. After 15 years at that location, Kroch's International Book Shop moved to 206 N. Michigan Avenue in 1927.[2] This store became the largest bookstore in Chicago by the time this location was closed in 1953.

In 1933, Kroch was able to purchase the Chicago branch of the New York-based Brentano's bookstore which had been in Chicago since 1884. To prevent Brentano's from re-entering Chicago, Kroch kept the Brentano name and operate this as a separate business from his own Kroch's bookstore until his retirement.

Adolf Kroch decided to retire in 1947 and to hand over the management of the company to his son Carl.[3] In 1953, Carl announced that he would form the "World's Largest Bookstore" the following year by merging the separate Kroch's and Brentano's bookstores and by enlarging the space that was then occupied by Brentano's at 29 South Wabash Avenue to 40,000 square feet of retail space.[1][4][5] In the basement of this store was another store that was called "Super Book Mart" which specialized in carrying paperbacks and low cost hardback reprints, the first of its kind in Chicago.[4][6]

Kroch's and Brentano's was said to have the finest selection of art books in the region, and its sales clerks were famously knowledgeable.[according to whom?] One such individual was Henry Tabor, who ran the art department. There was seemingly nothing he didn't know in the world of art. The flagship store at 29 S. Wabash had several distinct departments including one run by Alice (Morimoto) Goda who was secretary to the vice-president which was a mail order center that tracked down obscure out-of-print titles for customers around the world.[citation needed] The store frequently exhibited noted painters' and photographers' work on the walls, and regularly hosted book signings by major authors.

At its peak Kroch's had a total of 22 stores in the Chicago metropolitan area. Kroch refused to offer the sorts of discounts that other book chains did, even though the store suffered when large discount chains, such as Crown Books, opened up nearby. When Crown opened its downtown Chicago store a few blocks north of the 29 S. Wabash location, Kroch's management felt that it was not a serious threat, since it did not offer "full service". However, unable to compete with the discount bookstores, Kroch's and Brentano's closed its doors in 1995. Always known for major book signings through its entire history, its final major book signing was with heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman, who was promoting his autobiography By George. That event was hosted by Don Hailman, a long time manager with the company. Employee Hans Summers waited on the store's final customer at its flagship store on Wabash in downtown Chicago.[citation needed]

At the age of 72, owner Carl Kroch decided to step down as president and CEO and sell the chain to his 700 employees in 1986.[7][8] At the time of the transition the chain had 17 locations.[7] Increased competition from Crown, Borders, Barnes & Noble, and other discount bookstores forced the company to close all 10 of its suburban mall locations and leaving the remaining 7 Chicago locations open in 1993.[9][10] A few months later when the company was on verge of bankruptcy, Kroch bought back the company[11] and then turned around and resold the company to Businesship International.[12] After closing more stores, the new parent company was unable to turn the company around[13] and was forced to file for bankruptcy in June 1995 and was liquidated.[14][15][16] The remaining stores finally closed on July 31, 1995.[17]

Brentano's in Chicago[edit]

Photograph of Kroch's & Brentano's sign

During the late part of the Nineteenth and the early part of the Twentieth Centuries, the New York City-based Brentano's had a branch store in Chicago. This store had been operating for several decades before Adolph Kroch opened his bookstore.

In 1884, Arthur Brentano open the Chicago branch of his family's New York bookstore at 101 State street.[18] By 1930, Brentano's was the largest bookstore chain in the United States with 10 locations, 5 of which were outside of New York City, plus 2 additional affiliated locations in Europe. Unfortunately, Brentano's expanded too fast just prior to the start of the Great Depression and its creditors, mostly publishers and banks, forced the company to file for bankruptcy in March 1933.[19][20][21] The creditors preferred to see the assets of the firm sold to a group willing to maintain the company as on going business enterprise instead of liquidating the firm and glutting the bookselling market by having a large number of books being at below costs and thus destroying the bookselling market for publishers and other dealers.

At the bankruptcy sale, financier (and later U.S. ambassador) Stanton Griffis teamed up with Adolf Kroch to make the successful bid to purchase the firm.[22] Their bid was successful since they were the only group that had included a successful bookstore owner, which probably influenced the decision made by the creditors.

For his part in the bankruptcy sale, Kroch received the Chicago branch store and the exclusive right to use and control the Brentano's name within the states of Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin.[6][23] Kroch kept his Brentano's store in Chicago as a separate subsidiary of his existing Kroch's bookstore until 1954 when both stores were combined to form Kroch's and Brentano's.[1] When the first combined Kroch's & Brentano's bookstore opened in 1954, this became the largest bookstore in Chicago at 40,000 square feet.

Kroch had succeeded in preventing MacMillan, Waldenbooks, and Borders from using the Brentano's name within the Chicago area market.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Chase, Al (October 1, 1953). "Kroch's plans big new store at Brentano's: Moving in '54 from Michigan Av". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. d7. The first of the year a new corporation, Kroch's & Brentano's, Inc., will succeed Kroch's Bookstores, Inc. It will spend $400,000 to rebuild and modernize the Brentano book store at 29 S. Wabash Av., owned by Kroch's Bookstores several years, and to enlarge the present 12,000 square feet of floor space to 40,000 square feet. Alternate Link via ProQuest.
  2. ^ "Kroch's Book Shop to Move a Bit North". Chicago Daily Tribune. August 7, 1927.
  3. ^ Babcock, Frederic (January 19, 1947). "A. Kroch Retires; Leaves Business to Carl Kroch". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. i14. Alternate Link via ProQuest.
  4. ^ a b Abbott, Thomas (November 21, 1954). "Book Store's Remodeling Nearly Ended". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. a11. Alternate Link via ProQuest.
  5. ^ "'The World's Largest Bookstore' Is Opened". Chicago Daily Tribune. January 30, 1955. p. b8. Alternate Link via ProQuest.
  6. ^ a b Babcock, Frederic (November 21, 1954). "Hail Kroch's & Brentano's Giant Store: New Kroch's & Brentano's". Chicago Daily Tribune. pp. g7, g13. Hailed as "the world's largest book store," Kroch's & Brentano's will open for business tomorrow morning at 29 S. Wabash Av., Chicago. It will occupy three and one-half floors and cover 40,000 square feet. In 1933, at the invitation of American publishers, Mr. Kroch acquired the Chicago branch of Brentano's, Inc., "Booksellers to the World," and the right to use that name in Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Alternate Link via ProQuest.
  7. ^ a b Malcolm, Andrew H. (June 22, 1986). "Chicago's Largest Bookstore Chain Is Being Turned Over to Employees". New York Times.
  8. ^ Blades, John (February 13, 1986). "New Kroch's President Taking It Page At A Time". Chicago Tribune.
  9. ^ Ziemba, Stanley (July 2, 1993). "All Kroch's In Malls To Close". Chicago Tribune.
  10. ^ Miles, Mel (July 15, 1993). "Everybody's Watching Chicago's Book Wars: With more chains and independents competing here than ever before, booksellers around the nation are wondering who will survive". Chicago Reader.
  11. ^ Schmeltzer, John (November 14, 1993). "Kroch's Is Saved From Sad Ending". Chicago Tribune.
  12. ^ Blades, John (December 13, 1993). "Is This Kroch's Or Banana Republic?: One Bookstore's Whimsical Sign Hints At Bigger Changes". Chicago Tribune.
  13. ^ Buck, Genevieve (April 29, 1995). "Kroch's & Brentano's Closes The Book On 2 More Stores: Bookseller To Shut Headquarters On Wabash, Oak Park Location As It Tries To Rewrite Future". Chicago Tribune.
  14. ^ Buck, Genevieve (June 17, 1995). "Kroch's Files For Bankruptcy". Chicago Tribune.
  15. ^ Rubins, Donald M. (June 28, 1995). "Kroch's Demise". Chicago Tribune.
  16. ^ Blades, John (July 31, 1995). "Final Chapter: Could Kroch's & Bretano's Have Righted Its Sinking Ship? Maybe". Chicago Tribune.
  17. ^ Granger, Bill (August 1, 1995). "Kroch's and Brentano's last chapter is a sad one". Arlington Heights Daily Herald. p. 6. Monday was the last day of the old store at 29 S. Wabash, under the Loop elevated tracks, the book shop mecca of the Midwest for decades. The old store was mostly shuttered on its last day and the few clerks left were discounting the remainders. Kroch's and Brentano's did not die with grace or dignity in its last years. It lurched from crisis to crisis like a drunkard. Its legions of old employees lost their pensions at the end and those who left before the end left with some bitterness. Mixed with sadness, too, because the business was their family and their life.
  18. ^ "Brentano Brothers Ad". Chicago Daily Tribune. May 22, 1884. p. 12. Brentano Brothers, Booksellers, Publishers, Importers, Stationers, and Newsdealers. Special Announcement. We respectively inform the public that we have opened a branch store at 101 State St., one door south of Washington, which is similar in all respects to our New York and Washington establishments. Alternate Link via ProQuest.
  19. ^ "Brentano Suit Asks Receiver In Bankruptcy: 7 Publisher-Creditors Join in Move to Conserve Assets of Book Company Liquidation Not Planned Petitioners Avow Willingness to Advance Cash". New York Herald Tribune. March 31, 1933. p. 13. A petition in bankruptcy was files in United States District Court yesterday by seven publisher-creditors against Bretano's, Inc., a book-selling corporation with five stores in New York and five branches in other cities. Before the bankruptcy petition was filed retiring creditor-trustees of the corporation expressed a fear that possible liquidation of the corporation expressed fear that possible liquidation would be harmful to the general book-selling industry. Mr. Bretano spoke with pride of his five stores in New York and branches in Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Washington. He told of the branch in Paris, which is a separate corporation. Link via ProQuest.
  20. ^ "Brentano's Is Put Into Receivership: Publishers Filing Bankruptcy Petition Voice Intention to Keep Concern Alive. Liabilities Are $511,445 Assets of 80-Year-Old Chain of Bookstores Listed at $883,305 -- $1,500,000 Sales Last Year". New York Times. March 31, 1933. p. 21. Brentano's Inc., the world's largest retail book chain, was thrown into receivership yesterday, but every effort will be made to keep the business alive. Much more will be realized for creditors upon sale of the assets as a going business than in a piecemeal liquidation. The business is eighty years old. It was started by August Bretano. His nephews, August, Arthur and Simon Brentano, bought the business in 1877. The business was hit hard in the depression of 1893 and in 1898 was in serious financial difficulties. In 1899, the company was reorganized. Alternate Link via ProQuest.
  21. ^ "Brentano's Files In Bankruptcy". New York Times. April 28, 1933. p. 20. Brentano's Inc., the world's largest retail book chain, was thrown into receivership yesterday, but every effort will be made to keep the business alive. Much more will be realized for creditors upon sale of the assets as a going business than in a piecemeal liquidation. The business is eighty years old. It was started by August Bretano. His nephews, August, Arthur and Simon Brentano, bought the business in 1877. The business was hit hard in the depression of 1893 and in 1898 was in serious financial difficulties. In 1899, the company was reorganized. Alternate Link via ProQuest.
  22. ^ "Brentano's, Inc. Is Sold to Kroch, Chicago Dealer: $121,000 Bid Accepted by Creditors, Although N.Y. Firm Offered $9,000 More; Sale May Be Protested; Member of Bankrupt Book House to Continue With It". New York Herald Tribune. June 8, 1933. p. 19. Brentano's, Inc., the international book-selling firm, passed into the hands of Adolf Kroch, of Chicago, one of the largest book dealers in the country, at a bankruptcy sale yesterday. The Bretano family, it is understood, still be identified with the firm in executive capacities, and the business is to carry on in much the same way as in the past, according to Mr. Kroch. [T]he desire of the creditors, most of whom were publishers, to see the business go to another book-dealer who had been twenty-five years in the business and who had strong financial backing, had influenced his decision. This financial backing, it was learned later, came from Stanton Griffis, a partner in the firm Hemphill, Noyes & Co. Link via ProQuest.
  23. ^ Quinn, T.J. (December 29, 1997). "Walden Book Company, Inc. and Kroch's & Brentano's, Inc. v. Brenntano Co., Ltd" (PDF). United States Patent and Trademark Office, Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. pp. 2–4. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 4, 2016. Retrieved July 12, 2015.
  24. ^ "How Kroch's got its start". Chicago Sun-Times (Five Star Sports Final ed.). May 27, 1990. p. 56. The Brentano's name was added in 1933, when Adolph Kroch and an investment banker bought the bankrupt New York bookstore chain, then Kroch's archrival in Chicago. Kroch's has since sold the right to use the Brentano's name to K mart, with the caveat that they can't use it anywhere in the Midwest. For that reason, K mart has put the Coopersmith name on the three bookstores its Waldenbooks chain owns here.