Bluestockings: Help Them Stay Radical and Stay Put

This post is written by FAB Intern David Henninger. 

I walked to Bluestockings last Friday evening, a chilly October night, to attend their fundraising celebration — an event meant to celebrate how far they’ve come and how far they plan to go. It had been about six months since I walked the route from the FAB office on 4th Street to Bluestockings Bookstore on Allen Street below Houston. New, too-perfect-looking restaurants and supposedly “beautiful” and “breathtaking” luxury hotels had popped up. I wasn’t surprised. Did I know the Lower East Side before they began to appear? I wish. But do I know the rent-hikes, foreclosures, and evictions they represent? You bet.

I contributed an article to FABRIC in Spring 2015 spotlighting Bluestockings as one of the most notable collectives still housed in the Lower East Side. I say “still” because Bluestockings is the only place of its kind left in the LES. There used to be a number of feminist, radical, and/or queer bookstores like the Oscar Wilde Bookshop and Womanbooks across New York but they have all, save Bluestockings, been disbanded or gone out of business in the face of skyrocketing rents, luxury hotels, and condos.

As I entered the familiar store, I breathed in my favorite smells—books, coffee, and radical queer anti-hierarchical feminism. While awaiting to speak with Bluestockings collective member Sarah Olle, I had time to browse the book shelves before Bluestockings volunteers rolled them aside to transform the store into another one of its identities. The store also serves as an event space for gatherings, film viewings, book readings, and community talks. After looking through the books and grabbing some coffee, I sat down with Sarah.

Sarah is a self-identified outgoing collective member and ongoing project bottom-liner. Essentially, Sarah will be stepping down from her role as a collective member but will still be helping their store in its fiscal operations. Sarah is incredibly passionate about Bluestockings and their mission, and her passion comes through in the way she speaks about the collective and the space.

This is what I learned from Sarah: In June, Bluestockings signed a five year lease to stay in their 172 Allen Street storefront. This included a 22% increase in rent and a $16,000 down payment; no small amount for a non-hierarchical organization based upon a break-even model. Fortunately, 2015 has seen a 24% increase in sales – a welcome reprieve after experiencing some tough lows for the past few years.

One of the most wonderful things about Bluestockings, Sarah pointed out, is that they run on a different concept of labor. All of their collective members and volunteers work for something they care deeply about without monetary compensation. This passion-based model means Bluestockings depends heavily upon the feminist and LES communities for support.

The volunteers and collective members have been running a crowdfunding campaign for just under two months to keep Bluestockings on its feet, pay the rent, and build a better future for the store. In this short amount of time they have raised an amazing $39, 559 (including direct contributions) as of Sunday, November 8th. This comes up to almost 80% of their $50,000 goal. Some of the biggest donations came from past collective members who helped found the original store in 1999 and author James Patterson, who donated $2,500. They have also received 400+ smaller donations from all over the world. The outpouring of support they have received from the local community is a true testament to how fiercely folks believe in Bluestockings’ mission.

Sarah kicked off the event by outlining the other needs the funds will go towards. These include new lights, a new storefront awning, new storefront decor, and hopefully new floors. They already bought new computers, as their old computer system crashed two days after fundraising began. With all of this hard work, they definitely deserved to take a moment to recognize their own heartfelt passion and hard work. This event offered just that: a chance to look at what they’ve done so far and pin point where it is they want to go in the future.

In my conversation with Sarah I noticed that Bluestockings and FABnyc have a lot of the same goals and aspirations for the Lower East Side and the world. I asked Sarah what we, as the Lower East Side community, can do to support Bluestockings. She reminded me that Bluestockings isn’t simply a bookstore; through books, zines, and coffee, they offer community. Not only does Bluestockings cater to the queer feminist bookworm, but also to the activists and organizers. They have amazing events, readings, and workshops that build community and provide a safe space for many folks. We can support Bluestockings by buying their books, zines and coffee, by donating to their fundraiser, and by simply being an active community member who takes part in the amazing programs they offer.

Bluestockings has been cherished by many over the years, serving as a haven to activists and artists alike. Towards the end of the presentation, recognizable voices like Kate Bornstein and DarkMatter toasted to another five years of Bluestockings in videos they sent in to show their support. Please join these artist/activists and many more in supporting Bluestockings Bookstore in whatever capacity you can. They are part of the incredible past and hopeful future for the Lower East Side. To help fight the erasure of culture, community, and activism in the LES, they need you to help them stay here for many years to come.

“The only way to survive is by taking care of one another.” —Grace Lee Boggs, Author, Activist, and Feminist

Bluestockings IndieGoGo Campaign ends Nov 17th. You can donate HERE.

David Henninger is an intern at FABnyc, student at Columbia University, advocate for transgender rights, and lover of art. To learn more, find him on social media or email him at david@fabnyc.org.

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