|398 Colusa Avenue today|
Location: 398 Colusa Avenue, Kensington, California, USA
Opened: July 1992
Closed: June 2004
While much attention has been paid in recent years to lesbian bars as important womyn's spaces (Lost Womyn's Space being but one example), the women's bookstore has been more or less ignored. This is unfortunate, since for many of us more bookish types, the bookstores loom larger in our memories than the drinking holes. As Katherine Lidell has argued, "Feminist bookstores serve as hubs for the lesbian community, offering 'safe space' for gatherings, information dissemination, and personal exploration."
As part of Lidell's research, she surveyed customers at Boadecia's Books and at Charis Books & More in Atlanta, Georgia. As she observes, "The fact that 111 (56%) of the responses came from self-identified lesbians attests to the significance of feminist bookstores as lesbian places." To Lidell, this suggests that "feminist bookstores continue to serve as a powerful antidote to a mainstream culture that marginalizes difference and emphasizes heteronormative imagery. Far from being outdated, feminist bookstores hold great relevance in contemporary society, particularly for the establishment and maintenance of lesbian community."
Lidell's subjects recalled their first visit to a feminist bookstore with "great emotion and surprising detail," and for many others, that first visit "represented a turning point or rite of passage integral to their acquisition of lesbian identity." Those interviewed often described the bookstore as "an oasis" or "a home"--language we frequently see attached to lesbian bars. As such, the bookstores provided "a portal into the lesbian community" by providing customers with community information and women-identified cultural programming (literary readings, book clubs, writer groups).
Proof of this can be seen in the following list of random cultural events that took place at Boadecia's--and this in just one month (October 2002):
Friday, October 4: Reading from “Daughters of the Amber Moon” Katherine Forrest
Saturday, October 5: “Black Like Us: A Century of Lesbian, Gay & Bisexual African American Fiction” Led by co-editors Devon W. Carbado and Donald Wiese, and several of the book’s writers.
Friday, October 11: Beth Glick-Rieman shares her findings on the status of women around the world, reading from her book, “Peace Train to Beijing and Beyond”.
Saturday, October 12: Lucy Jane Bledsoe presents a slide show based on travels in Antarctica.
In addition, we see that in 2003, the artist Melissa West had a display of recent painting at Boadecia's. This suggests that the women's bookstores also played a significant role in promoting the visual arts as well.
But perhaps most importantly, Lidell suggests that the books made available and sold through the women's bookstores serve as "part of a dispersed lesbian community. Enfolded within their pages are the voices of a diversity of women--real or fictional--whose words provide comfort, encouragement, and guidance....In the absence of--or in addition to--personal support, lesbians may turn to books as they forge new identities."
So why are the bookstores--like Boadecia's--being lost? Several reasons are identified: skyrocketing urban rents, the desire of long-term owners to pursue different careers, and the proliferation of chain bookstores and Internet commerce. And yet despite (apparently) greater accessibility to lesbian books and greater lesbian social acceptance, Lidell's subjects were adamant about the importance of the women's bookstores--even in ostensibly liberal places like northern California. As one woman named Deb told Lidell,
Even though we live in the Bay area, there are still people out there who do not accept our lifestyles, with stores like Boadecia's for women, we're more likely to go there to buy. read, and meet because nobody cares what our preferences are when we're there!
So why is it that more than half of these women admitted that they don't patronize the women's bookstores as much as they used to? The reasons offered are somewhat different than those we see for the lesbian bars. Many confess that they've been "lured away" by the ease of the chainstores and the Internet. Many are no longer within an accessible distance to a women's bookstore. Kids, longer working hours, responsibility for aging parents, and financial constraints are also mentioned. Plus, we see that bookstores in general have far less appeal to younger persons.
In Spring 2004, when the community became aware of the fact that Boadacia's was on her deathbed, there was an effort to rally around her.
Described as "as the East Bay's coziest, cat-friendliest, progressive bookstore," Boadecia's Books, a lesbian-owned independent bookstore in the East Bay city of Kensington, CA (near Richmond) is faced with closing unless it can get help from the community and booklovers. Use the link above to donate funds or to buy books from their online store. Or check out the store in person when you go and see poet Michelle Tea read there with Meliza Banales on Friday, May 12th at 7:30pm.
But alas, it wasn't enough to save her life. In June 2005, we see the following obituary in the Kensington Outlook.
Longtime Kensington bookstore Boadecia's Books, will close its doors next month after struggling for the past several years. The bookstore, which specialized in feminist and lesbian titles, joins a list of independent booksellers that have closed in recent years.
Not mentioned here is that in 2003, a Barnes & Noble had opened but half a mile away....Boadecia's was reputedly the oldest women's bookstore in the San Francisco Bay area when she passed.
Suzanne Corson was the driving force behind Boadecia's. Let her words be the final say:
"Books can change lives. If someone is going through something and needs information, if the person behind the counter knows the inventory well, you can put the right book in their hands--whether it's [about] career change, abuse, or coming out, you can hand them a book with a smile, and that can make a huge difference. And it's an honor and a privilege to do that."