March 21, 2018
Feminist bookstores are thriving thanks to resisting everything about Donald Trump
by Stephanie DeLuca
Donald Trump is bad for women, but according to a new report from Publishers Weekly, he’s good for feminist bookstores. As Claire Kirch writes this week, feminist bookstores in the US are seeing a resurgence in both sales and visibility since the 2016 election.
While there are currently only ten bookstores here that identify as feminist—down from a whopping 100 in the nineties—most of the owners who spoke to Kirch reported an uptick in sales and foot traffic. And even though feminist bookstores have closed more than opened over the last twenty years, new ones—like Card Carrying Books & Gifts, in Corning, New York—are opening as a direct form of resistance to the Trump agenda. Co-owner Randi Hewit told PW, “We opened very much in response to the election. We wanted to create a safe space in which to organize. Feminist values are American values, and our goal is to create a feminist future.”
E.R. Anderson, a bookseller at Atlanta’s Charis Books, calls it the “Trump bump”: in-store sales were up twelve percent from 2016 to 2017. (A moment to self-promote? They’re also hosting our author Marc Perrusquia on March 28!) Women and Children First in Chicago have seen a twenty-two percent increase in sales since the election. Stores like New York’s Bluestockings and Antigone Books in Tucson (which we need to take a minute to give a round of applause for surviving forty-five years), did not give sales numbers, but both agree they’ve seen an increase in sales thanks to the political climate as well as other positive developments in their communities over the last few years.
While these stores are businesses selling a product, they’re also politically active places, providing hope during a dark time in American culture. They’ve taken on the responsibility of making our society more just. Trudy Mills, a co-owner at Antigone, says the store’s political stance was historically “more moderate” than other feminist bookstores — but, she says, “Antigone has become overtly political since the 2016 election… among its newer efforts is promoting political rallies in the bookstore’s electronic newsletter.” Women and Children First co-sponsored the Chicago Women’s Marches in 2017 & 2018.
Bookstores are safe spaces where communities can organize and gather. These feminist bookstores, while seeing an uptick in sales, are also seeing an increase in bookstore foot traffic and event attendance as they provide their patrons a sanctuary from the political world that’s invaded most aspects of our daily lives.
Charis’s feminist event group, which, before the 2016 election, typically drew 20–40 people to its monthly discussions, now attracts about 90, and an intergenerational consciousness-raising group, which also meets monthly, has more than quadrupled in size, from 15–20 people to 90. A parenting group that focuses on battling white supremacy has had 120 members since the election, up from 30 in 2016.
Women and Children First saw tickets for their Morgan Jerkins event sell out in minutes, and their panel event about the 2017 Women’s March was standing room only.
It’s easy to see the political climate reflected back via the bestselling books at these feminist bookstores — all of them report that nonfiction books with political themes are outselling fiction. Women and Children First manager Jamie Thomas says, “Looking at our bestsellers from 2016 versus 2017, I was struck by how few fiction titles show up on the 2017 bestseller lists.” Their hardcover nonfiction is up forty percent, and bestsellers in the stote include Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance and Revolution in Trump’s America, edited by Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding, and Hillary Rodham Clinton’s What Happened. Charis reports much of the same, with their bestselling books often written by African-American women: Roxane Gay’s Hunger; Adrienne Maree Brown’s Emergent Strategy, an activist handbook inspired by Octavia Butler’s science fiction novels; and Reproductive Justice by Loretta Ross and Rickie Solinger. Bluestockings reports selling at least one copy of Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark “every other day.”
Living under a president who becomes more authoritarian every day, people are angry and alarmed enough to fight back. Inspired out of complacency by the danger Trump represents, they’re looking for support and community, somewhere to channel their energy, regroup, and make plans to resist. Feminism and feminist bookstores are there, and always have been, whether they’ve been appropriately appreciated over the years or not. As Anderson says, “Everything we’ve been saying for the past 40 years is being listened to. We’re finally not being treated as hysterical, crazy femi-Nazis. Feminism is ‘cool.’ It’s definitely a moment.” Wouldn’t it be something if we could take this moment into the future, and turn ten feminist bookstores back into 100?
Stephanie DeLuca is the director of publicity at Melville House.