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|Rafshoon pledges bright future for Outwrite|
|Written by Matt Schafer|
|Monday, 05 December 2011 21:04|
The shelves at Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse are starting to look a little bare as the iconic bookstore sells down its inventory as it celebrates its 18th anniversary in the face of a prospective move.
On the corner of Piedmont Street and 10th Avenue, Outwrite has become the unofficial center of gay Atlanta. It started its life as a vacant nightclub and turned into one of Atlanta’s few remaining independent booksellers. In November, store owner Philip Rafshoon announced that Outwrite can no longer afford its lease and is looking to move.
“It’s kind of a bittersweet milestone tonight because we’ve got to kinda find a new home, but 18 years tonight, well sorta tonight, we had our opening party,” Rafshoon told the crowd on Saturday.
“What I said that night is that there will be a time that we won’t need a gay and lesbian bookstore. When people can come to their parents, where they won’t be persecuted in churches, schools, there won’t be any issues in their families. Right now there are a lot of people who think that we are at that point. In fact, we had some good friends who ran a book store and they said mission accomplished… our mission is not accomplished in any shape way or form. There is still a lot of work to be done.”
Rafshoon has only said that they are looking at new locations; however, at the birthday party he hinted that the store might stay put.
The Lloyd E. Russell Foundation recently donated $1,000 and has started a campaign called “Save Outwrite Books.” Outwrite is also accepting donations in the store and online.
“This will be our moving and possibly, if there is enough money raised, our staying fund,” Rafshoon said to cries of “Stay!” and applause. “Nothing's signed yet.”
If anyone is interested in helping the store, Rafshoon has a simple appeal.
Since setting up shop at the intersection nicknamed “The corner of Gay and Gayer,” high rises have replaced homes and property values have skyrocketed as a slew of gay bars were closed and demolished. Corporate booksellers like Borders have gone out of business and independent bookstores like Tower Books, Wordsmith Books and Haversack Books have all closed.
“We are kind of at crossroads right now. We had someone yesterday who said this is an obsolete business model, that a bookstore just doesn’t work anymore,” Rafshoon said. “I just think that a community-based business is never going to be an obsolete business model… businesses that support the community, that employ local people, that support local vendors, that bring three times as much money back into the community is never going to be an obsolete business model, and no matter what happens don’t ever believe that this isn’t the right way to go.
Outwrite has become a home to not only its employees, but a host of regulars like Larry Jordan of West Atlanta who has been coming to Outwrite for more than a decade.
“I had just came out, and I had just came to Atlanta,” Jordan said of his first visit to Atlanta. “This was the first gay thing I did when I came here. I’m originally from Macon… and Philip was the first person I met when I came through the door and I’ve been coming back ever since.”
Jordon’s story is one that could be repeated by hundreds of customers, including regulars like Paula Braun of Midtown.
“It’s been a place where it was always there was always a sense of community. It’s been the sort of place where if I didn’t have anything going on I would check what authors were coming. I love coming to hear the authors speak. Or it’s a place where I’ll just come by and have a cup of coffee," Braun said.
Assistant Manager Blake Hardy recalls how people swamp the store during Atlanta Pride, protests, candlelight vigils and historic events.
“When the Supreme Court struck down the sodomy law there was such a great feeling of joy it was almost like a second Independence Day. That day really sticks out in my mind; people flocked here to celebrate that event, it was the same day that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed,” he said.
If anyone is interested in helping the store Rafshoon has a simple suggestion: Shop.
“We are looking for a home, we are asking you to shop all that you can, we have put everything in the store on sale,” he said. “If we don’t have it right now we’ll get it in for you, and we’ll even discount that for you.”
Top photo: Outwrite Bookstore and Coffeehouse owner Phillip Rafshoon (by Matt Schafer)
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