July 13, 2016

Malaprop’s Books’ sales drop in the wake of North Carolina’s bathroom bill


Why punish a business for laws they don't agree with? Boycotts in the wake of North Carolina's bathroom bill are hurting Malaprop's sales.

Why punish a business for laws they don’t agree with? Boycotts in the wake of North Carolina’s bathroom bill are hurting Malaprop’s sales.

There are many reasons to hate North Carolina’s discriminatory, hysterical, and stupid bathroom bill. So let’s add this one to the list: Malaprop’s, the adored independent bookstore in Asheville, is suffering from a sales slump in the wake of boycotts of the state. Karen Heller at the Washington Post looks at how the entire state, and more narrowly, the city, which she calls an “idyllic hipster haven,” has been affected.

In March, the state legislature passed HB2 — officially the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, but known to all as the bathroom bill. It mandates, among other provisions, that transgender individuals use public restrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificates.

Within days, North Carolina became the place not to visit but to strenuously avoid, and an economic boycott went into full throttle. Bruce Springsteen and Selena Gomez canceled shows, film and television productions relocated, PayPal put its planned expansion into the state on hold, and the NBA is considering a change of venue for the 2017 All-Star Game. Five states and more than a dozen municipalities banned their employees from making nonessential trips to North Carolina.

And it’s not just Bruce and Selena who have bypassed the state. It’s also tourists who would normally love to visit a quirky burg’s local independent bookstore (Malaprop’s founder and owner Emoke B’Racz notes that the store’s day-to-day sales are down), and touring authors who have long made Malaprop’s a must visit store.

Even as sales were falling, popular authors Sherman Alexie and Mark Z. Danielewski canceled readings. The Alexie cancellation, tied to the children’s illustrated book “Thunder Boy Jr.,” hit especially hard; the schedule included a reading at a local theater and school events, and a projected sale of 500 books. Says B’Racz, “Lots of children were denied the chance to get to know him.”

Danielewski wrote B’Racz an apologetic note, but Alexie canceled through his publicist and offered no explanation except a tweet: “In honor and support of the LGBT community, I am cancelling all upcoming events in North Carolina. #RepealHB2.”

“I have very little patience with stupidity,” says B’Racz, who’s still furious with Alexie. “There are other ways of protesting and making an impact.” She wanted to strip the novelist’s books from the shelves, but the staff persuaded her not to, although everyone laments the burden on the bookstore, which is vehemently opposed to HB2.

The store has indeed made their opposition to the bill clear. Shelf Awareness writes that on the night of Alexie’s cancelled event, “several local writers, including Charles Frazier, author of Cold Mountain, and Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants, appeared at an event protesting HB2 that raised $5,000 for local LGBT groups.” And store manager Linda-Marie Barrett wrote an op-ed in the New York Times, asking, “Why Should My Store Be Boycotted Over a Law I Despise?

While I can see the appeal of a boycott, actually visiting, and spending money at, businesses that promote and celebrate tolerance is probably better. But really people, whatever side you come down on, can’t we all agree to not do this?

Tourists who couldn’t cancel their trips would walk into Malaprop’s and other shops in town and announce that they weren’t spending money.



Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.