Amazon Bookstore Opens as First Feminist-Lesbian Book Shop Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Amazon Bookstore—the oldest and likely the first U.S. feminist bookstore, which also includes books by, for, and about lesbians—opened in Minneapolis in 1970. In addition, feminist bookstores like Amazon have provided safe gathering spaces for women.

Summary of Event

In 1970, Rosina Richter Christy and Julie Morse Quist lived in a women’s collective in Minneapolis. Minneapolis, Minnesota, first feminist-lesbian bookstore They began selling books written by and for women from the porch of their house. At the time, thanks to the burgeoning women’s movement, more books about women’s issues were becoming available. However, mainstream publishers and booksellers were reluctant to produce and distribute them. Feminist bookstores were one segment of what came to be known as the women in print movement. Comprising feminist authors, publishers, printers, distributors, and booksellers, this movement attempted to rectify the absence of women’s voices in the publishing industry. In particular, these activists wanted to see more books written by and for lesbians and women of color. Many, if not most, of these enterprises were run by lesbians [kw]Amazon Bookstore Opens as First Feminist-Lesbian Book Shop (1970) [kw]Bookstore Opens as First Feminist-Lesbian Book Shop, Amazon (1970) [kw]Feminist-Lesbian Book Shop, Amazon Bookstore Opens as First (1970) [kw]Lesbian Book Shop, Amazon Bookstore Opens as First Feminist- (1970) [kw]Book Shop, Amazon Bookstore Opens as First Feminist-Lesbian (1970) Amazon Bookstore Bookstores;Amazon Lesbian feminism;and feminist bookstores[feminist bookstores] Feminism;feminist bookstores and Women-owned businesses[Women owned businesses] Economics;women-owned businesses[women owned businesses] [c]Cultural and intellectual history;1970: Amazon Bookstore Opens as First Feminist-Lesbian Book Shop[0770] [c]Literature;1970: Amazon Bookstore Opens as First Feminist-Lesbian Book Shop[0770] [c]Organizations and institutions;1970: Amazon Bookstore Opens as First Feminist-Lesbian Book Shop[0770] [c]Publications;1970: Amazon Bookstore Opens as First Feminist-Lesbian Book Shop[0770] [c]Feminism;1970: Amazon Bookstore Opens as First Feminist-Lesbian Book Shop[0770] [c]Economics;1970: Amazon Bookstore Opens as First Feminist-Lesbian Book Shop[0770] Christy, Rosina Richter Quist, Julie Morse Hanson, Cindy Browne, Karen Boer, Jo den Niles, Donna Wieser, Barb Sharp, Kathy Whitney, Irene

In the early 1970’s, Christy and Quist sold their inventory to Cindy Hanson and Karen Browne, who moved it to the now-defunct Lesbian Resource Center. After two more moves, Amazon relocated to a neighborhood that offered more parking and easier access to public transportation. The business began to grow, drawing a mix of lesbians and heterosexual women. However, the neighborhood soon began attracting upscale businesses, and the owners of Amazon’s space raised the rent. The bookstore’s future was uncertain until the help of Irene Whitney. With her husband, Whitney owned a building across from Loring Park. Despite its location in a prime real estate area, Whitney arranged for Amazon to rent it at the same rate that Amazon had been paying at the previous location. The store moved to the new site and expanded in 1985.

Around 1990, Amazon created a four-member management team, including Jo den Boer, Donna Niles, Barb Wieser, and Kathy Sharp. By 1995, Amazon boasted a staff of fourteen and annual sales of $600,000. However, the mid-1990’s also brought a new set of challenges. As the neighborhood became increasingly popular, parking became more difficult. Increasing numbers of large chain bookstores and a growing conglomeration of publishers made it difficult for independent bookstores in general to survive. Further complications were tied to the emergence of online bookseller Amazon.com (unrelated) in 1995. In addition to the competition posed by the on-line retailer, staff time at Amazon Bookstore was absorbed by dealing with phone calls, packages, and e-mails meant for Amazon.com. Other people made purchases at Amazon.com, thinking they were supporting the feminist bookstore. Throughout this period, sales dropped.

In 1999, the five-member collective of worker-owners took Amazon.com to court over trademark infringement. They reached an out-of-court settlement in the spring of 2000. As a result of the settlement, the original Amazon had to call itself Amazon Bookstore Cooperative. Three months later, the store relocated to a space next to Chrysalis, a nonprofit women’s resource center.

Significance

In the early 1970’s, feminist bookstores sold the few books, pamphlets, and periodicals available that dealt with social issues relating to women, and to lesbians. As more books became available, the stores expanded their inventories to include a variety of genres. Many stores sell a variety of products other than books, such as buttons, bumper stickers, music, T-shirts, jewelry, and crafts made by women. While many of these products are available from other sources, feminist bookstores continue to bring women-focused items together in a safe space.

Besides selling merchandise, feminist bookstores have always served in part as community centers for feminists, lesbians, and other women. Amazon Bookstore Cooperative and other stores across the country offer special events such as author readings, book groups, and discussion groups. Bulletin boards provide a place for women to post announcements, find roommates, and learn about community resources. Lesbians, in particular, visit feminist bookstores both to find books relevant to their lives and to make connections with the community. Many report their first visit to a feminist bookstore as being a significant event in their coming-out process.

Feminist bookstores have typically received strong support from their surrounding communities. Many stores rely in part on volunteer assistance. In times of dire need, local women may offer direct financial support. For example, after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Amazon Bookstore Cooperative’s sales declined, and it received an unexpected property tax bill. After holding a fund-raising dance and through direct appeals, the store raised $30,000, mostly from small individual contributions.

Historically, when feminist publishers had trouble finding stores willing to sell their books, feminist bookstores began to spring up across the country. For many years, these stores were the most likely places to find feminist and lesbian titles produced by small presses. While very few books were available in the early 1970’s, the number grew quickly, and eventually even mainstream presses began publishing in these areas. As mainstream bookstores became more willing to carry these titles and as large bookstore chains proliferated (including those that are Web-based), feminist bookstores—along with independent bookstores in general—began to decline. Those that have survived continue to serve their communities by providing access to books written by, for, and about women. They also continue to serve as gathering places for the local feminist and lesbian communities. Amazon Bookstore Bookstores;Amazon Lesbian feminism;and feminist bookstores[feminist bookstores] Feminism;feminist bookstores and Women-owned businesses[Women owned businesses] Economics;women-owned businesses[women owned businesses]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Amazon Bookstore Cooperative. http://www .amazonbookstorecoop.com/.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kirch, Claire. “The Struggle Continues: Amazon Bookstore Cooperative’s Financial and Psychological Turnaround Through Grassroots Support.” Publishers Weekly, October 13, 2003, 20.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Liddle, Kathleen. “More than a Bookstore: The Continuing Relevance of Feminist Bookstores for the Lesbian Community.” Journal of Lesbian Studies 9, nos. 1/2 (2005).
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Norman, Rose. “Support Your Feminist Bookseller: She Supports You.” NWSAction: National Women’s Studies Association 13, no. 1 (2001): 30-32.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Seajay, Carol. “Twenty Years of Feminist Bookstores.” Ms. 3, no. 1 (1992): 60-61.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______, ed. Feminist Bookstore News (now defunct). See Books to Watch Out For! http://www .btwof.com/index.html.

Fall, 1967: Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop Opens as First Gay Bookstore

June, 1971: The Gay Book Award Debuts

1973: Naiad Press Is Founded

1980: Alyson Begins Publishing Gay and Lesbian Books

October, 1981: Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press Is Founded

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