America’s Oldest Gay Bookstore Will Close Its Doors


It breaks my heart to learn the Oscar Wilde Bookshop in New York City’s Greenwich Village will, after 41 years, close its doors. Known as nation’s oldest gay and lesbian book store, it will sell its last manuscript on March 29. Like me, Oscar Wilde lived on the famed Christopher Street; in fact, we were next door neighbors. I only stopped in a few times, but I walked by the window every day for years. (It opened on Mercer Street before moving to Christopher.) Kim Brinster, the shop’s fifth owner, cites the economy for the closure, which actually comes six years after the store nearly closed because of finances in 2003. We’ll miss you.

Brinster writes to customer:

It is with a sorrowful heart that after 41 years in business the Oscar Wilde Bookshop will close its doors for the final time on March 29, 2009. We want to thank all of our customers for their love and loyalty to the store over the years. You have helped make this store a world wide destination and all of us at the store have enjoyed welcoming our neighbors whether they are next door or half way around the world.

In 1967 Craig Rodwell started this landmark store that not only sold Gay and Lesbian literature but also became a meeting place for the LGBT community. Over the years it grew into a first-rate bookshop thanks to the loyal, smart and dedicated staff. There are not enough words to thank these dedicated booksellers for making the OWB one of the world’s finest LGBT bookstores. I feel very honored to have gotten to work with them.

Unfortunately we do not have the resources to weather the current economic crisis and find it’s time to call it a day. So thanks to all who have been a part of the Oscar Wilde family over the years, you have truly been a part of a great global community.

[Photo: NYT]

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  • Michael Bedwell

    This is VERY sad! The store’s founder was Craig Rodwell who was Harvey Milk’s 22-yr. old gay activist lover in New York City when Harvey was not just still publicly closeted but hoping Goldwater would win the 1964 Presidential election!

    Rodwell stood up to the police any number of times, getting busted, and later personally witnessed the first Stonewall riot. His bookstore WAS the first of its kind and is deserving of being kept open somehow [paging rich gays…make it a nonprofit and maybe you can write off losses???] as much as any bookstore in the world.

  • mb00

    It truly is a shame. As an owners of a used bookstore in Hawaii, my partner and I are getting ready to close our doors as well. The economy is partly to blame, but the other factor, the one that really plays the biggest role in small privately owned bookstores, is Amazon and other like websites. They have really made it impossible to compete with penny books.

  • Alex

    This breaks my heart. I worked for Kim at the Oscar Wilde Bookshop during the year I spent in New York City, back in 2000. She is an incredibly big-hearted and dynamic woman and she really believed in the store. That bookshop is a piece of our community’s history and I’m sorry to see it go.

  • Buddy

    @mb00: Yes with Amazon and ABEBooks (just bought by amazon but staying as it’s own brand for now) small independent and used retail bookstores can’t compete. I spent my childhood in used bookstores and grew to thrive on the smell of old musty books. It’s not quite the same with a Sony Reader now.

  • Bob R

    @Buddy: I so agree with you. They can put books on tape and CD and memory chips, etc (those do have a place for the blind and disabled) but there is nothing like the look, feel and smell of a nicely bound book. I also enjoy older books with their yellow, worn pages. I personally think defiling a book or mistreating them is a sign of ignorance. I have shelves full of books both old and new, paper bound, hard bound, some leather bound and buy books (mostly used) wherever I can find them. On a chilly, raining or dreary winter’s day, there is nothing like a good book (if you don’t have a partner) for comfort and relaxation. Old leather bound books especially have a nice feel and smell to them. I still love the printed page and find great joy in real books. The closing of this store is indeed a shame. It’s too bad it cannot be preserved as a historical landmark. For me personally, “electronic editions” will never replace the beauty and joy of reading a printed, bound volume. We’re losing a real treasure when this store closes its doors for the last time.

  • Mark

    Very sad news. But there is the adage that applies everywhere: “Use it or lose it”. Obviously few used it, and the Oscar Wilde Bookshop is a business, not a charity.

  • Kurt

    “I only stopped in a few times, but I walked by the window every day for years.”

    Well, there is the problem.

  • GranDiva

    @Bob R:
    Can I marry you?

    I can’t even go to the library anymore because I actually have to HAVE every book I ever touch.

    I had to get out of the book business myself, too, and every time a brick-and-mortar is run out by the Amazon/B&N two-headed monster, my soul fragments again.

  • Jaroslaw

    Bob R – maybe you have two marriage proposals – one from me too!

    Seriously though, would it be too late to start (almost said mount) a mail order campaign?

  • Charles J. Mueller

    As the former resident of Christopher for more years than I care to admit to (I still own and operate a leather shop on Christopher Street west of the Oscar Wilde Bookstore), it saddens me as well to learn of the closing of yet another Village landmark.

    In my long business tenure (since 1965), I have witnessed the passing of many such great landmarks in the Village…Lilac Candy Shop, Stevens, Randy’s Uplift lighting, Paul Bellardo, The Ramrod and the wonderful egg and omelette shop, the name of which escapes me at the moment, to name but a few. It was equally sad to watch the demise and passing of them as well, but the demise of The Oscar Wilde Bookstore, is especially poignant and hart-felt for me.

    I too knew Craig Rodwell and enjoyed a brief romance and frienship with him, as did Harvey Milk, who was also a close friend mine and often stopped by my store to chat with me before he went to San Francisco and became a famous gay icon. And like Craig, I also witnessed Stonewall.

    I too, among many other interests, enjoy collecting books and have a library in each of my homes, both here and abroad. I am proud to say, that quite a few of them came from the Oscar Wilde Bookstore, thanks to my acquaintance with Craig.

    Back “in the day”, it was the practice of all business owners in the Village to patronize each other and offer a courtesy discount to our fellow businessman as an inducement to do so. We supported each other and I was a long-term, active member of the Greenwich Village Chamber of Commerce. That, however, was before the ‘bottom line” real estate people exploited the Village and jacked up the rents up through the roof with a “the sky is the limit” mentality.

    If anyone is to blame for the demise of OWB, it would have to be the greedy, uptown landlords who own and operate the village these days, not the man who walked by the window for years.

    In reality, I can no more expect all of my “passersby” to patronize my store, anymore than Kim Brinster can expect (and I am certain that she doesn’t) everyone who passes by her window to patronize her store just for the sake of keeping her in business.

    Times change as do the needs of people and technology is exacerbating that change in a manner that few people expected it would, just a few short years ago. The computer age is impacting our lives in much the same manner as the industrial age impacted our society.

    As someone else on this thread stated, running a bookstore is a business, not a charity. And if the day ever comes that I must close my doors, I cannot realistically expect people to “pass the hat” to see to it that my business continues as a “landmark” either. Nor, would I want them. It runs contrary to my feelings and thoughts about the system of capitalism that our Democratic country enjoys.

    That said, however, I too am heart-broken that a part of my cherishd memories and another piece of the wonderful neighborhood that I have loved, lived in and supported since I was a young man of of 27 is disappearing. As Werner Erhard, the creator of EST one said, “Change is the only thing that is constant.”

    With the closing of the Oscar Wilde Bookstore, the cover closes on another chapter of my life that was known as Craig Rodwell. Not only do I miss you Craig, I will also miss the last remaining totem to all the efforts you put forth to make this world a better and more beautiful place for all of your brothers and sisters.

    The bookshop you gave birth to may be closing, but you will always live on in my heart and will always be remembered by those of us who were there at Stonwall with you.

  • Excy

    Wow, I am still shocked when I hear of GLBT bookstores closing. It is probably happening all over the world…due to the economy and the availablilty of GLBT literature on-line. Androgyne, a bookstore in Montreal, was very important for me in my early years after coming-out. They moved several times before finally closing a few years ago. I will always remember the “Androgyne” years…and thank the original owners for getting it off the ground. I am sure it was very hard work but also very gratifying to make available GLBT literature in the early 70’s.

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