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|Outwrite Bookstore seeks community help to stay open|
|by Dyana Bagby|
|June 10, 2011 00:00|
Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse sits on what is considered the gayest corner of Atlanta — 10th Street and Piedmont Avenue — and has served as a community hub for LGBT people to meet and organize, as well as purchase books, CDs and hear readings from their favorite authors.
But late last month, Outwrite owner Philip Rafshoon put out a call to the community seeking support. A poor economy and the changing landscape of the publishing industry have put in peril the landmark that’s been in business 15 years.
“Everyone says, ‘We love your store and we love what you do for the community,’ we just have to get more people in here and get them to stop taking us for granted,” Rafshoon said in an interview.
The bookstore isn’t immediately facing closure.
“We are doing it early so it doesn’t become a crisis,” he said. “We are not in danger of closing our doors tomorrow or next week or next month, but we really need to get people aware that we have great offerings here and you need to use it or lose it.”
In the email Rafshoon sent to hundreds of customers, he said, “We hope you agree that Outwrite is far more than ‘just another business’ but is truly a resource that the LGBT community and Atlanta cannot afford to lose and that we all need to help preserve.”
Now Rafshoon has partnered with marketing business owner Bill Kaelin to seek ways to keep the business open and thriving.
In a June 3 email to numerous people, including several at the GA Voice, Kaelin said he is working with Rafshoon to help Outwrite survive. A private meeting is set for June 21 for people interested in helping find ways to keep open the “cornerstone of the gay and lesbian community movement in Midtown,” Kaelin wrote.
Rafshoon said this week that the idea of making Outwrite a nonprofit is one that may be far down the road. Right now, he and his staff and supporters are looking for ways to increase revenue by partnering with groups, having people volunteer to do web design and social media, and urging people to continue shopping at the store. Volunteers may even be asked to help paint the store, Rafshoon said.
The June 21 meeting is just the first of a series of meetings of private conversations that may lead to a community meeting at the store in the future, he said.
“We’re looking at short-term strategies right now,” Rafshoon said. “We want to find ways to work with different groups better. Forming a foundation is not in the immediate plans. We want to keep the heat on the community to make sure they know we are here.”
The nonprofit model is not without precedent among Atlanta’s LGBT booksellers.
Several years ago, Charis Books & More, the oldest independent feminist bookstore in the Southeast, put out a similar call to the community as it faced tough financial times. The bookstore, located in Little Five Points, has had a nonprofit arm since 1996 to put on programming. The nonprofit Charis Circle can receive funding from grants and donations. The bookstore makes its money from selling books, including e-books. Outwrite also sells e-books.
In March, Charis announced plans to open the Charis Feminist Center, hopefully by next March. Volunteers are being sought to help make the transition, which includes a $1 million capital campaign. Lesbian philanthropist Edie Cofrin, who gave Linda Bryant the seed money to open Charis 37 years ago, is co-chair of the capital campaign team.
“We’re excited for change and to be in a space that is more accessible to more people,” said Charis Books & More co-owner Angela Gabriel at the March announcement. “We’ve been discussing and dreaming about this for 10 to 15 years and finally we have the right people on board to make that happen.”
Currently, Charis Circle rents space from Charis Books & More to organize and hold programming events. The new center would be owned by the nonprofit Charis Circle and the bookstore, which will remain for-profit, will rent space from Charis Circle. Visions for the new center include housing other nonprofits, as well as a coffee shop or bakery. The new center will also be MARTA and handicap accessible.
— Laura Douglas-Brown contributed
Top photo: Outwrite owner Philip Rafshoon addresses the crowd at a recent bookstore event. (by Dyana Bagby)
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