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posted: 11/12/2013 1:14 PM

Ice cream served from a shed built sociability in Arlington neighborhood

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I never saw the little candy store that was across the street from our house in the days when our town had only town fathers (and no town mothers) to make laws about what could and could not be built along our village sidewalks.

But I've heard any number of stories of families who made it an evening ritual to plop their kids into prams and wagons and push-pull them down to Heinie Kennicott's mini-emporium, built right next to the Dunton Avenue sidewalk.

There, they'd indulge in the ceremonial evening ice cream treat for one and all. (If my mother had been part of that pilgrimage, there would have been a cone for the dog, too.)

Originally, Heinie's "store" was under the front steps of the house, and he sold only easy-to-handle items like penny candy, pencils and other small school supplies.

But as he grew older, he began to take the train into the city for more sophisticated supplies, and when he put in ice cream cones, his family constructed a small, free-standing shed. Kids loved it, and so did their mothers pushing baby buggies.

I look across the street occasionally and try to imagine neighbors gathered nightly for ice cream and sociability. I don't think village ordinances would allow a free-standing shed/store any more. But, evidently, according to a recent Chicago Tribune story, similar little edifices are allowed all over the country if they offer books instead of cones.

The handcrafted structures, filled with books for children and adults, are called Little Free Libraries.

According to the Trib front page, this free books movement began in Wisconsin in 2009, "and in four years they have become as much about building a sense of community as they are about encouraging people to read."

Little Free Libraries have spread not only throughout Wisconsin and Illinois, they can be found on lawns around the world.

Generally, the "little libraries" contain from 20 to 100 books, which are free. Anyone can pick one up, but the habit of leaving one you brought when you take a new-to-you book is encouraged.

The Little Free Libraries story not only reminded me of Heinie's sidewalk emporium, but also of the first library in Arlington Heights. It, too, was on Dunton, at 310 North, about where First Presbyterian Church stands today.

It, too, was tiny and had a limited number of books. Two maidenly sisters welcomed Arlington residents into their living room, taking a real interest in getting people to read, often reading out loud the beginning of a book to get a child "hooked."

The enthusiastic members of The Reading Circle in town had collected the books to share with their neighbors -- what Helen Keller called "the sweet gracious discourse of book friends." Their efforts led, in time, to the Arlington Heights Memorial Library.

Heine Kennicott's mercantile endeavor didn't lead to a full-blown grocery store across the street from me. But his effort had a lot of charm, just as today's Little Free Libraries do.

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