In the world of bookstores, it seems that the big and showy comes at the cost of the small and personal. Everyone is impressed by a big new Barnes and Noble or Borders store, but what are these retailing steamrollers doing to independent retailers?
The plight of independent booksellers is not news--it's tough to win out against the huge national chains, especially when those huge national chains open for business right down the street. But one niche of independent bookselling has been hit particularly hard: the feminist bookstore.
Alternet states that there were 175 feminist bookstores in the United States in 1997, and 35 are left open today. These shops were often the groundswell that propelled new writers into mainstream consciousness, as well as being a haven for finding obscure titles and kindred spirits. Many of these shops thrive on quirkiness, but there seems to be little room left for quirkiness in today's market. More's the pity.
A Room of One's Own, a 30-year-old store in Madison, Wis., is the second oldest and was one of the pioneers in popularizing titles such as Rita Mae Brown's Rubyfruit Jungle, now a feminist classic.
Most of the remaining women's bookstores can be found in small cities of the Midwest, South or coastal states. "There are virtually none left in big cities," says Linda Bubon, owner of Women and Children First, whose store, in a progressive part of Northside Chicago, is one of the big-city exceptions. Another is Bluestockings in New York City, which opened in 1999 and re-opened under new ownership, as a radical activist center, two years ago.
Although her 25-year-old store is still making it, Bubon says the last couple of years have been all uphill. While not wanting to detail the extent of the store's financial struggle, Bubon says Women and Children First has had to contend in the past eight years with the openings of seven Borders or Barnes and Noble stores within three miles of her front door. Moreover, she faces the expansion into book sales by Amazon.com, Borders, and Target. Her non-profit business, she says, cannot provide the discounts of her corporate counterparts.