The Portland feminist bookstore In Other Words will close permanently on Saturday after 25 years of trying to overthrow capitalism, the patriarchy, and the general business-as-usual status quo.
Founded in 1993, the bookstore aimed to fight the “culture of oppression” by only employing volunteers, never paying workers, and selling books below market rate. The store also doubled as a community center, hosting events and such, but always struggled.
While there has been speculation on whether rent hikes or online book retailers contributed to the store’s demise, Johanna Brenner — the Portland State University professor who co-founded the bookstore — told PJ Media on Tuesday that this was not the case.
“The rent has gradually gone up, but the closing was not precipitated by a rent spike,” said Brenner. She instead suggested that one of the main issues was the hassle of managing a “staff” that never got paid nor received any benefits.
Many of those who volunteered to work for free were already “in highly precarious economic situations, didn’t always have control over their work schedules [at other jobs], and often experienced crises in housing or other aspects of their lives,” said Brenner.
Over the years, the difficulties of running a bookstore on this model compounded — especially in the wake of the store’s contentious partnership with the sketch-comedy TV show Portlandia.
For six years, Portlandia used the store as a set, but the relationship soured after the show was deemed not progressive enough by bookstore staff. “F*** Portlandia! Transmisogyny – Racism – Gentrification – Queer Antagonism – Devaluation of Feminist Discourse” read a sign that was once posted on the store’s front door, according to the Willamette Week.
In a final announcement, current volunteers blamed everything from “white, cis feminism” to the “cycles of capitalism” for the store’s closure.
“We cannot continue because we know reform does not work,” they wrote.
“The current volunteers … stepped into and took over a space that was founded on white, cis feminism (read: white supremacy). It’s really difficult, actually, impossible, for us to disentangle from that foundational ideology.”
“We have experienced this as a very real reminder that reform doesn’t work. Patriarchy, White Supremacy, Capitalism cannot be reformed and ever serve the people. Abolition is the goal,” the announcement added.
Brenner — who was quick to note distance from the store’s current leaders — told PJ Media that the store is requesting donations up until the end of the month, and that the remaining stock is being sold to help with closing costs.
“We want to get the books into the hands of the people who want them,” she added.
In its final days, the store’s Facebook page has dedicated itself to signal-boosting the local #Occupy ICE Portland movement — an Antifa-inspired collective currently occupying the entrance to Portland’s ICE field office, according to CNN.
On Sunday, the bookstore will be taken over by Critical Resistance Portland, which describes itself as a small group of prison abolitionists. They explain that the storefront will live on as a community center in its control, albeit in support of the goals of “abolishing policing” and “dismantling the prison system.”
As Kristi Turnquist at Oregon Live pointed out, the closure of In Other Words is consistent with the decline of feminists bookstore nationwide. In 1993, there were at least 200. Now, fewer than 30 remain.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen