Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Mama Bears Bookstore

Writer Deb Cooperman and friend Ruth at reading they
did at Mama Bears
Mama Bears Bookstore

Location: 6536 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland, California, USA

Opened: 1983

Closed: March 2003

Here is how they described themselves in 1999:

Mama Bears Women's Bookstore is one of the oldest feminist bookstores in the world. We feature a wide selection of books and gift items of interest to women.

Certainly that's modest and straightforward enough. Fortunately we have more to go by. Here is the write-up from when Mama Bears won the Best Independent Bookstore honor from Best of the East Bay 2001:

Leaflet for Max Dashu event at
Mama Bears
The bookstore is nice and small and people look up at you when you walk in the door -- usually a trait with which we feel uncomfortable, but it's somehow rendered OK in Mama Bears. The women behind the counter have been there forever and can point you in all the cardinal directions for books on women and relationships and pirates and school and food. While you peruse the stacks, you can always gaze up at the posters of famous women on the wall to inspire you to do things, or if not that, then at least read about it. A café's in back for tea and snacks, and free literature abounds at the front. But be sure to visit soon. The store's lease is up in two years, and where they'll go, nobody knows.

As it turned out, that last sentence turned out to be highly prophetic. The following announcement appeared in SFGate in March 2003:

Mama Bears, the sweet, little women's bookstore on Telegraph Avenue, is calling it quits after 20 years, but don't despair -- a new sweet, little women's bookstore is opening up in its stead.

Initially, Sarah Cohen, 26, was planning on buying Mama Bears from Alice Molloy and Carol Wilson, whose feminist bookstore roots go back a good 30 years. But the deal fell through when the two parties couldn't agree on a price, and Molloy and Wilson began liquidating their stock of books for, by and about women. They have temporarily moved across the street to a rental space at 6434 Telegraph Ave., and that's where they they plan to sell off all their books at a 40 percent discount.

A lot of forlorn women have been dropping in, e-mailing or telephoning to express their disappointment that the store is going out of business, but Molloy won't have it: "Hey, we're excited," she said. "We're retiring!"

Molloy is thinking about turning the Mama Bears Web site into a political forum. Wilson has plans to volunteer.

A beautiful tribute to the store was posted on Facebook under Remembering Our Feminist Sisters:

6536 Telegraph Avenue today
The 3 Dyke Crones: Alice Molloy, Carol and Natalie who ran Mama Bears bookstore on the Oakland/Berkeley border for YEARS. It was so sad to me when they could no longer make a go of it or were just ready to retire.

They sold Lesbian, Feminist and Goddess/Women's spirituality books and it there I have amassed my huge collection. They also sold Lesbian and women's artwork, magazines, Lesbian/Pride jewelry, had author lectures and signings and small intimate women only concerts there as well as rituals.

At night we could have strictly women only events and during the day open to all.

Every Thanksgiving and sometimes on Christmas Day too tgey cooked up a big turkey or on Xmas Day a ham..for Dykes in the community who had no family or no place else to go. Everyone else poylicked the side dishes and it was a wonderful sense of community and bonding and service they did for the community.

There were also sodas and snacks and tabes so anytime during the day womyn could come in and socialize with each other or with them if they weren't too busy. I always amassed a stack of books and while snacking would peruse through them to see which ones of the bunch I really wanted.

Indeed Mama Bears was a Lesbian and women's community institution. Alice and I had many a political discussion. She considered herself to be an anarchist Feminist. I considered it my home away from home....the 3 were very sad when the end came and I missed them. Especially Alice and Carol. I don't know if they are all still alive or not...they pretty much disappeared after the bookstore closed....

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