Classic Books offers what retail chains offer at a cheaper price


Parker Otto

Store sign outside of Classic Books.

By Parker Otto

DeKALB – For students who want to buy all kinds of second-hand books with character, and for cheaper prices than retail chains like Barnes & Noble, Classic Books, 115 N. First St., is a viable option.

Owned and operated by DeKalb resident Charles Sigwart, the shop is flooded with literature, with all available wallspace taken up by no-slots-unfilled bookshelves. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the store is only open by appointment, which can be made between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Wednesday through Saturday, according to Classic Books’ Facebook page

Since the store deals in second-hand goods, the latest popular books might not be on the shelves, Sigwart said. However, the store offers a wide range of genres including politics, history, self-help, media, photography, foreign languages, religion, biographies and several kinds of sciences like computer science, psychology, mathematics, chemistry, astrophysics and biology. 

The store even has more obscure fields like amateur radio, books about U.F.O. sightings and “all kinds of weird stuff,” Sigwart said.

All of these genres just scratch the surface as to the content that Classic Books offers; surprisingly and most of these books have a price range of $1-$4.

“Name a subject, we’ve got it,” Sigwart said.

Most of the books in the store are sorted by categories, with the exception of classic literature and novels, which are arranged alphabetically by the author. Sigwart said he can also repair books, and has not only repaired customer’s books, but also has successfully made older books reusable for new readers.

Before opening Classic Books, Sigwart was an associate professor at NIU teaching computer science from 1988 to 1995. His wife and business co-owner, Gretchen Sigwart, also taught at NIU in the field of engineering and computer science and, along with their marine biologist daughter Julia, the “overeducated family” developed a love for books and knowledge, Charles Sigwart said. 

Upon Charles’s retirement in 1995, he began to sell some of his massive collection of books, at the behest of his wife, at garage sales, Charles said. However, when the city of DeKalb passed an ordinance requiring that all residences in DeKalb only have garage sales twice per year, Charles rented out the current location for Classic Books in 2005.

Currently, the shop is accepting donations of books, where they get the majority of their material. Donations are all free and Classic Books only buys books if they’re in demand, Charles said.

Books that Classic Books can’t use or have too much of will still be accepted and then subsequently donated to local establishments in DeKalb which also take used books, including Safe Passage.

Safe Passage is a charity in DeKalb which helps survivors of sexual and domestic abuse and Hope Haven is a shelter for DeKalb’s homeless population, according to their respective websites.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced traffic, the store has always been less of a way to make a living and more of a way for Charles to give good literature to the community, Charles said.

“I’m retired and I can afford to do this,” Charles said. “The rent is only a couple hundred bucks a month and most of the money we make goes to rent, the telephone and the internet.”

As for the student population of NIU, Classic Books can appeal to students of various studies, thanks to the store’s large assortment of material in almost any knowledge field. With textbooks often being very expensive, it would also be nice for students to find books in their field without having to spend lots of money, Charles said.

“If someone is gung-ho about a subject, we can most certainly provide more than one book,” Charles said.