December 4, 2017
The Troll Hole, a Brooklyn zine and sex shop, is ending its run
by Ryan Harrington
We often read in the book trade news about feminist bookstores, LGBTQ bookstores, and ongoing efforts to bring visibility to female writers in stores as well as hearts and minds.
But, of course, these spaces and efforts are in no way monolithic — and they assume different forms based on the neighborhoods they’re trying to speak to. Those neighborhoods can be incredibly diverse.
This seems to have been the biggest challenge facing the Troll Hole, a feminist bookstore and sex shop in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and the one that ultimately caused its demise last week. Its life, however, was a brilliant comet across our sky.
As Gabrielle Bruney wrote of the shop’s origins for Broadly:
[Monica] Yi, a 30-year-old Korean-American graphic designer, opened Troll Hole with two friends in the spring of 2016. There are no Babelands or Good Vibrationses in Bushwick yet—the neighborhood has yet to reach the woman-owned-chain-sex-shop stage of gentrification—and Yi and her friends bemoaned the lack of local lube options, aside from Rite Aid’s meager selection of KY. Yi noticed a “For Rent” sign in the window of Mermaid Laundromat. So, for $600 a month, she and her friends decided to rent a tiny corner of the space—less than 100 square-feet—and separated it from the quarter machines and kiddie rides with a curtain. Troll Hole, initially envisioned as a queer, feminist vendor of high-quality lubes and erotic zines, was born.
Independent, employee-owned, a creative use of space, bearing a strong feminist message, and offering goods you can’t get elsewhere in the neighborhood–the Troll Hole had a good thing going. But it had a hard time speaking to everybody. For instance, even though the sex toy branch of the operation brought in the most money, it is also likely what prevented many potential zine and book customers from coming in (especially in a laundromat where potential shoppers may have young kids in tow). Or, to frame the same problem differently: Bushwick’s Catholic majority might not be the ideal users of such a space.
As Bruney concludes:
Troll Hole can’t be all things to all women — a haven for sex workers and trans youth and working-class Catholic family women all at once. Ironically, though, Troll Hole’s ultimate inability to fulfill its lofty mission proves why intersectionality is necessary: Women’s experiences are so endlessly varied and complicated that any attempt to encapsulate them under one umbrella—let alone in a small corner of a laundromat—will likely prove imperfect, no matter how well intentioned.
Farewell, Troll Hole — the finest hole in the whole of Brooklyn. Hopefully other excellent Bushwick bookselling spaces, like Human Relations, Molasses Books, and Silent Barn, can pick up some of the slack.
Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.