Sunday, January 02, 2011

Demise of gay bookstores

In 1968 I moved to Manhattan's Morningside Heights ("ColumbiaLand"), where I still live. This neighborhood is the northern extension of the Upper West Side, reputedly one of the most liberal areas in the country. Yet, when, back in 68, I checked a local bookstore for volumes on homosexuality, I found little, most of it junk written by homophobic shrinks.

There was a remedy. A year before, Craig Rodwell had opened his Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookstore in Greenwich Village. In earlier decades there had been a class of sleazy bookstores selling semicontraband items, sometimes brought out from under the counter, but nothing like Oscar Wilde, with its well-stocked shelves and engaging proprietor.

Alas, Craig died several years ago, after having sold the store. The store itself closed last year. For a while, it was owned by the more prosperous DC bookstore, Lambda Rising, which tried valiantly to maintain Rodwell's business, the first gay bookstore in the history of the world. But the effort at historic preservation failed. In fact Lambda Rising itself closed last year.

So have most others. Glad Day struggles on in Boston, helped by subsidies from the owner, who benefits from a legacy. Some gay bookstores seem to survive in Canada and Europe--for how long it is hard to say.

At first sight it seems that the problem is competition by the big chains, Barnes and Noble; and Borders in particular, which now do have gay sections and are more convenient, sometimes with better prices. Big fish eat little fish. Bu then they are eaten in turn. Amazon, where I must admit I am a devoted customer, devours all. The flagship Barnes and Noble store near Lincoln Center is now a melancholy ruin, soon to close.

As for the gay stores, maybe (as Deacon Maccubbin of Lambda Rising suggests) they have served their purpose. From 1967 to the early years of the twenty-first century they were needed. Not any more it seems.

I confess that I am addicted to books. We bibliophiles seem to be a decreasing tribe, but at least we are still around.



Blogger Lux314159 said...

Correction: Boston's gay bookstore is *Calamus Bookstore*. Its website:

This is the country's best surviving bookstore. John Mitzel, the proprietor, does not just stock current titles, but books long out-of-print as well as used books.

John Lauritsen

4:53 AM  
Blogger Stephen said...

Though not having nearly enough books, A Different Light on Castro Street in San Francisco limps on. The best readings by gay authors are nearby in the Upper Market Books, Inc., a local chain of general-interest bookstores. The gay section at the Union Square Borders has shrunk more than 50%.

Amazon rules—with my active complicity. About two years its gay and lesbian recommendations disappeared for a few weeks. I hope that was due to a glitch.

10:37 AM  

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