The Story of Us

Larry & Carolyn

Larry Dunphy grew up just 12 miles south of Dixon, Illinois.  While operating the family tractor, he would dream of living the salon life a la Gertrude Stein, listening to folk music and jazz in Greenwich Village and discussing books with Dorothy Parker at the Roundtable in the Algonquin Hotel of New York City.  After graduating from the now Northern Illinois University, working in various food and beverage related situations including co-owning the Gateway Food Service in St Louis, Larry relocated to Chicago to try his hand at substitute teaching and independent insurance sales before returning to Lee County, Illinois, to a new chapter in life.  In Chicago while buffing his motorcycle tank is where he met ...

Carolyn Chin, a native New Yorker who still remembers Barnes & Noble as a flourescent-light-lit storefront with utilitarian grey carpeting stuffed floor to ceiling with every imaginable book, was inspired when spending a Vassar College holiday with a friend in Boston.  She put aside the "someday" of having a place like Harvard Bookstore Cafe in the intervening 15 years while experiencing a year in Beijing, earning graduate degrees from Washington University and Boston College and working as a public accountant and a financial controller in Chicagoland.  And then, B&N came to town with a Starbucks stand in the middle of the floor, and Larry "got" it.

Carolyn said yes to marriage when Larry finally said yes to running a bookstore/ coffeehouse.  So,...

After much research, depressing advice from well-meaning family, friends and other independent booksellers, penny-saving and elbow grease, they opened Books on First, a premier bookstore/coffeehouse in Downtown Dixon at the corner of First Street and Hennepin Avenue on 4 October 1998.  The American Booksellers Association had just re-invented itself after a huge fight with (guess who) B&N and from the beginning, we have proudly been an Independent Bookseller with BookSense

A baker's dozen years later, BookSense morphed into IndieBound and Books on First is achieving its ambition of being a great place to visit, with books for readers of all interests including a wide selection of Midwest history, delicious cafe offerings as well as space for Sauk Valley's best pass-the-hat live music in a coffeehouse setting every Saturday evening.

Nominated for the Women's National Book Association in 2008 for Excellence in Inspiring Children to Read, our West Wing -- opened in October 2007 -- was chock-full of children's books, wooden toys, puzzles and art supplies. Our commitment to children and the opportunity to explore and learn through reading is community-wide, as shown in our customers' support for Books for Babes program each holiday season. Since 2001, we have partnered with local social service organizations to provide a tree of (first) names from which our customers find and can shop for age- and gender-specific books, toys and other gifts.  Books on First takes a percentage of the proceeds and purchases hats, mittens, scarves and socks for the children.  

Now, with 25 years on the clock and Larry watching over us, the store is back to its original footprint, still IndieBound and dedicated to providing the community with a "great good place," where patrons can come together to discover and take away new ideas as well as a satisfying cuppa and a read full of "E" -- enlightening, entertaining, educational, essential, effective, escapist, engaging, ... and more.  When we are thanked for being here, we thank right back, because we are happy and grateful to continue the fine community tradition of an open forum bookstore/coffeehouse, where -- this website notwithstanding --  we and our patrons can meet and communicate with each other face-to-face.


COVID-19 2023

COVID-19 fight update:

Please respect our service team and fellow patrons who may want to continue to wear face coverings, keep a physical distance or do the safest thing for their & their loved ones' health & safety.


How to physically distance: Just stay 8 books laid end-to-end from your fellow booklover!

Whether you think the devastating effects of this novel coronavirus have been overblown or not, let's all work as a community to stay safe and keep our local businesses here for you!