Closing the book on 2 stores
I've spent the last few weeks like a mourner in a graveyard, standing mute in front of places, wondering why. Two independent bookstores have...
Seattle Times staff columnist
I've spent the last few weeks like a mourner in a graveyard, standing mute in front of places, wondering why.
Two independent bookstores have closed recently, and Seattle is a lesser place. Last month, Madison Park Books cleared out its inventory. I peered through the window the other night and wondered how a place that, just weeks ago, was so vibrant — kids perched at the little table in the back, staff-recommendation cards tacked to the shelves like love notes — could now house little more than a ShopVac.
It felt the same the other day in front of the Beyond the Closet Bookstore on East Pike Street. Empty. Bare shelves. A sign on the door directing deliveries be returned to sender.
Both are significant losses to their communities, but more so for Beyond the Closet, for it was the city's only gay/lesbian bookstore, and filled a corner of Pike and Belmont Avenue with what was, not long ago, discreetly tucked away on back shelves of mainstream bookstores — or banned altogether.
Owner Ron Whiteaker opened Beyond the Closet in 1988, selling new and used books, magazines and erotica. (You righteous types can kneel in church today and thank God: There's now one less place around here to buy porn).
The inventory evolved with the times; near the end, Whiteaker sold books on planning gay weddings and parenting.
"Customers used to come in from Boise and plunk down $100 because they couldn't find this stuff in their own community," said Whiteaker, 48.
More importantly, the store served as an unofficial community center before the LGBT Community Center opened a few years ago.
The closing, decided on in the spring, was "mostly financial."
It's a familiar chorus, so feel free to sing along: People can save by shopping the large chains and online. Why pay more?
The 30 percent discount Whiteaker would have to offer to compete meant no profits.
The July 31 closure caught a lot of people by surprise, which is a good thing — they treated this gay bookstore like any other business.
But that was also its undoing.
"When people come in here and wonder what happened, you want to say, 'Where were you?' " said Angela Pfeil, owner of The Feed Bag, a pet-supply store next door. "They don't make the connection that they need to support the independents."
And the community will suffer more for it.
"This will have a historic effect, a trickle down," she said. "Every time someone walks up to the door and finds it closed, they will no longer have access to what could really help them" with their sexuality, their family's reaction to it, or their life in the community.
They could find those answers at Beyond the Closet — and not only from a book.
"It's strange not having a place to go to every day," Whiteaker said.
He isn't sure what he'll do next. But it won't be books.
"I think the print culture is dying," he said, and my heart sank again.
Rest in peace.
Nicole Brodeur's column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or email@example.com.
She'll say it again: Use it or lose it.
About Nicole Brodeur
My column is more a conversation with readers than a spouting of my own views. I like to think that, in writing, I lay down a bridge between readers and me. It is as much their space as mine. And it is a place to tell the stories that, otherwise, may not get into the paper.
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