|PGN’s Mark Segal
by Joe Siegel
April 27 was National Independent Bookstore Day. To mark the day, Philadelphia Gay News founder and publisher Mark Segal went to the bookstore now known as Philly AIDS Thrift at Giovanni’s Room and posted about it on Facebook.
The relationship between LGBTQ media and independent bookstores has been seen as crucial over the years for generating sales for authors and providing readers access to print publications. And the closure of these booksellers has had an impact, according to editors of various publications.
“There isn’t great historical data on LGBT bookstores in the U.S., perhaps in part because these spaces were once, by design, underground,” according to a 2018 report, “What we lose when LGBT books become simply books,” on Qz.com. “But since their peak in the 1990s, with around 40 stores, according to Spectrum South, the numbers have fallen. Of the 13 LGBT bookstores listed on the Lambda Literary site, two have closed since the site was last updated in Feb. 2010. Of the early pioneering shops, Oscar Wilde Bookshop closed in 2009, followed the same year by Lambda Rising, and, soon after, by San Francisco’s A Different Light.”
Independents have loyal customers and customers who like to be informed and read,” said PGN’s Segal. “When they disappear, part of our distribution disappears. But we do find new outlets, especially cafes where people are using the net, but still seem to prefer to pick up the print editions.”
“We have always delivered papers to these stores, and covered many authors as well,” added Tracy Baim, former editor of Chicago’s Windy City Times. “In Chicago, Women & Children First Bookstore has remained a critical bookstore for the entire community, and they are among the few surviving feminist bookstores in the nation. It does hurt communities, and distribution of free newspapers, when stores go out of business.”
In its heyday, A Different Light had four locations. The first opened in Los Angeles, followed by stores in San Francisco’s Castro district, West Hollywood, and New York’s Chelsea neighborhood.
Over the years, many LGBTQ authors made A Different Light part of their book signing tours. That list includes such notables as Quentin Crisp, Judy Grahn, Armistead Maupin, Christopher Isherwood, Paul Monette, William Burroughs and Edmund White.
“The closure of independent bookstores has affected the Bay Area Reporter,” noted news editor Cynthia Laird. “One, Books Inc., used to be a regular advertiser but stopped when they closed their Castro location. Years ago, some independent bookstores (A Different Light, Walt Whitman Books) did advertise. Both are long gone. The few remaining stores do not advertise.”
There were once five bookstores in the Castro. Today there is one.
Washington, D.C., lost popular LGBTQ bookstore Lambda Rising in 2010. It was in business for over 35 years. “We greatly miss Lambda Rising and other area bookstores that were pioneers in carrying not just the Blade but other resources for the LGBTQ community,” said Washington Blade editor Kevin Naff.
Naff said the Blade is now being made available in alternative locations. “Despite the loss of many of those spaces, our distribution remains strong and we are available in many mainstream businesses that wouldn’t have carried the Blade in the early years,” he said. “We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Lambda Rising and the others for their fearless, pioneering spirit.”