With the news that Washington’s legendary gay bookstore Lambda Rising is closing, here’s why two gay-owned independent booksellers are a privilege in LGBT Atlanta this week and all year.
Stop and imagine what gay Atlanta would be like without the shelves and shelves of LGBT-specific books (top photo), not to mention the core LGBT meeting places provided by Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse (second photo) and Charis Books & More (third photo).
As quickly as the Lambda Rising news flashed across Washington is as quickly as our own local weekly author events, meetings and social gatherings at these two institutions could vanish without committed, ongoing patronage. That’s a sad thought for Philip Rafshoon, owner of Outwrite, and Sara Look, co-owner of Charis, who say that buying books on the internet or at a large chain doesn’t compare to what independent gay businesses offer their patrons.
“When you support an independent business, a gay business, a gay bookstore, it puts more than the dollars back into the community,” Rafshoon says. “Our staff is passionate about what they do, and passionate about the community. They believe not just in independent bookstores, but in building a strong community here.”
And there’s a myth that large chains carry the same titles that niche bookstores provide, Look says.
“As a lesbian-owned feminist bookstore, we’re going to find specialized books that others simply don’t have or are hard to find,” she says. “Even as big-name publishers are starting to print LGBTQ titles, it doesn’t mean the chains are stocking them.”
“We still have a lot of people come in who can’t come out of the closet, and we provide support for them, as well as a place where people can be comfortable and buy great stuff at the same time,” he says. “We offer books that the chains just don’t care about, and we provide a welcoming place and a staff that understands their needs.”
Look and Rafshoon both say the internet has changed gay book buying, but that online resources don’t provide the community and support necessary to feed the full spirits of gay men and lesbians.
“Take away the gay bookstores, bars and newspapers, and you’re stuck with the internet,” Rafshoon says, noting that internet users are still alone when they’re on the computer.
“We provide a place to find like-minded people and books that are going to reflect your life,” Look says. “Come here and be comfortable.”
It would be devastating to the community to lose what Outwrite and Charis bring to the table each week.
“There are only 15 feminist bookstores left in the country,” Look says. “Not many more gay-owned bookstores than that, either. It would be a tragic loss to those communities if they just went away.”
The case is clear, and Atlanta’s two gay-owned bookshops make sure there’s something special happening on a regular basis that goes beyond book selling.
This week alone, Charis, which celebrated 35 years in business last month, holds a birthday celebration and poetry reading in honor of local writer Franklin Abbott on Tuesday, the regular book club Exploring Genders Through Reading on Wednesday, and a holiday party and sale on Thursday.
Both stores offer a diverse, year-round roster of authors that bring their stories to Atlanta for readings that make the works personal for readers. Again, take a moment to imagine Atlanta without them–if you can.
Also this week, Outwrite hosts the latest from author Benyamin Cohen (bottom photo) on Wednesday with his book “My Jesus Year,” the hilarious journey of a Georgia-born gay Rabbi whose crisis of faith leads him to the question: “What would it be like to be a Christian?”
On Friday, gay author and actor Thom Bierdz of “The Young and the Restless” fame comes to Outwrite to talk about his book “Forgiving Troy,” the true story of his struggle with a schizophrenic brother.
So from a community perspective, there’s so much to be gained by supporting these businesses—for your holiday shopping and throughout the year—to make sure they’re part of LGBT Atlanta’s landscape for years to come.
“Shopping local, shopping gay businesses, shopping gay bookstores puts strength in the community that is tangible and recognizable. Case closed,” Rafshoon says.
We couldn’t agree more.