SAD BUT TRUE: feminist businesses are becoming as rare as unicorns. Sure, we have Girlbosses and female CEOs who like to Lean In, but down here on main street, feminist restaurants, bars, and bookshops have seen their heyday. These woman-owned businesses have fallen prey to economic turmoil and the changing needs of women and feminist communities — although some have struggled through to the other side.
The numbers tell it all: in 1990, there were 100 self-described feminist bookstores in the U.S. Today, there are 12 — an almost 90% decrease. It’s important to compare this to the overall figures for indie bookstores, which are down at least 70% as of 2011. The discrepancy isn’t huge, but it’s big enough to be notable, and to suggest there’s something extra at play when it comes to the shuttering of feminist bookstores.
At this point it’s an old story, but from what I can gather, the internet killed the feminist bookstore. These bookstores were hit harder by the Amazon phenomena as their patrons were overwhelmingly women — you know, the gender that gets paid 50-70% (depending on race) of a man’s dollar, is more likely to be a caretaker, and/or live in poverty — so making the decision to spend $5-10 more on a book at an actual bookstore might be a legitimately difficult or impossible one. Not only has the internet taken over in feminist book sales, but it has taken over as the ubiquitous space for feminist organizing, another niche that feminist bookstores used to fill.
The bookstores that have survived have taken both these factors in hand, selling books online and maintaining a rigorous schedule of programming. One serves vegan food, while another also sells lesbian-made crafts. And there’s something of a happy ending to this story: the number has stayed steady at 12 for at least five years. New feminist bookstores might not be popping up anytime soon (except maybe on the internet, what with Emily Books), but it seems like we’re going to be able to enjoy those remaining for years to come.
Antigone Books, Tucson, AZ
Named after everyone’s favorite Greek girl badass, Antigone Books just celebrated its 40th birthday. Highlights include a Steampunk book group, among others, and staff picks by their dog, Jodi.
Buy: Jodi recommends The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Attend: Reading by Linda Hirshman, author of Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World, February 5 @ 7pm
Bloodroot, Bridgeport, CT
Bloodroot is double trouble: not only is it one of the last remaining feminist bookstores, it’s also THE last remaining feminist restaurant. Its menu boasts almost as many scare quotes (around words like “chicken” and “chevre”) as a Judith Butler essay. Sound a bit second-wave? To be fair, they’ve been growing with the times — they recently took down a “no heels” sign in the bathroom.
Buy: pick your poison — Bloodroot Cookbook Volume One: Vegetarian or Bloodroot Cookbook Volume Two: Vegan
Attend: Sunday Brunch, 11:30-2:30
Bluestockings, New York, NY
Not just a store, but a 100% volunteer-run anarchist collective. A staple for the NYC queer, trans, feminist, and leftist communities, Bluestockings features a sweet zine collection, free condoms, and an incomparable gender studies section.
Buy: Anarchism and Its Aspirations by Cindy Milstein
Attend: Feminist Neurobiology, February 6, 2-3pm
BookWoman, Austin, TX
Another 40-year-old wonder, BookWoman started as a collective before eventually becoming a brick-and-mortar. They serve Austin’s feminist readers and writers with monthly book groups and open mics.
Buy: Let Me Tell You What I’ve Learned: Texas Wisewomen Speak by P.J. Pierce
Attend: V-Day Erotica Reading, Feb 12 @ 7pm
Charis Books & More, Atlanta, GA
Charis Books was started with a gift from one woman to another — thus the name, which means “gift” in Greek. In fact, the story of Charis is one of multiple women investing their capital in a project for themselves and their communities. These days, they help keep themselves afloat with their non-profit, Charis Circle.
Buy: Carryin’ On in the Lesbian and Gay South Ed. John Howard
Attend: Cliterati Open No-Mic, 3rd Thursdays @ 7:30pm
Common Language, Ann Arbor, MI
Common Language is an LGBT bookstore that’s served Ann Arbor for more than 20 years. Despite financial struggles around the recession, it pulled through with help from the community and sales through its updated site.
Buy: Lawfully Wedded Husband: How My Gay Marriage Will Save the American Family by Joel Derfner (pictured on homepage, next to dog).
Attend: LezRead Book Club, Last Saturdays @ 4pm
In Other Words, Portland, OR
Portlandia’s “Women and Women First” is filmed in this hub of radical organizing. In Other Words even started a free lending library within the bookstore in order to make feminism accessible to everyone. Help keep In Other Words’ doors open by contributing to their Indiegogo campaign — whether it’s one dollar or one hundred, anything helps!
Buy: Girl in the River by Patricia Kullberg
Attend: PDX Books to Prisoners Weekly Meeting, Tuesdays 5-7
People Called Women, Toledo, OH
Ohio’s only feminist bookstore, People Called Women is also the home of Steinem’s Sisters, a feminist lending library and archive in honor of legendary activist Gloria Steinem. The archive focuses on rare and out-of-print feminist books from the first and second wave; a partial catalog can be found here.
Buy: My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
Attend: Saturday Night Social feat. coloring books, February 6, 5-9pm
A Room of One’s Own, Madison, WI
Opened in 1975, A Room of One’s Own lives on after combining forces with Avol’s Bookstores in 2012 and expanding to e-book sales. It serves as the local supplier of feminist literature, as well as a community gathering space.
Buy: A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
Attend: Reading by Amber Tamblyn, author of Dark Sparkler, February 12 @ 6pm
Wild Iris Books, Gainesville, FL
Recovered from its 2014 crisis via crowdfunding and a change to non-profit status, Wild Iris continues to serve Gainesville, a little-known American literary hub. It places its high-caliber local authors front and center while encouraging its patrons to buy and eat local.
Buy: Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. A Gainesville local, Groff’s latest novel was nominated for a National Book Award
Attend: Zoe Lewis live in concert, February 12 @ 7:30pm
Women and Children First, Chicago, IL
Women and Children First boasts 36 years and over 30,000 titles. The Women’s Voices Fund helps support its programming, which includes readings, panels, and book launches.
Buy: Queer Brown Voices: Personal Narratives of Latina/O Lgbt Activism by Uriel Quesada, Letitia Gomez, Salvador Vidal-Ortiz
Attend: Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox, Moderator Joanne Bamberger and contributors Veronica Arreola and Emily Zanotti 01/27/2016 – 7:30pm
Womencrafts, Provincetown, MA
Womencrafts is a proud lesbian-owned books/craft store that showcases women artisans and authors. It might be the only place in the U.S. where you can read up on queer theory while browsing aromatherapy pillows and hand-blown glass sculptures.
Attend: Womencrafts is the only feminist bookstore that doesn’t host events–probably because they can’t compete with Provincetown’s myriad drag shows.
Now go forth and support your local feminist bookstore!