Sad news. The nation’s oldest gay bookstore, the West Village’s Oscar Wilde Bookshop, will close on March 29th due to the “current economic crisis.”
The store was opened in 1967 on Mercer Street by Craig L. Rodwell, who was influential in the gay rights movement. It later moved to 15 Christopher Street. Mr. Rodwell, who inspired similar owners of gay bookshops around the country, and who helped organize the city’s first gay pride parade in 1970, died of stomach cancer in 1993.
Then, a store manager, Bill Offenbaker, bought the store. A third owner, Larry Lingle, bought the store in 1996. In 2003, after Mr. Lingle said he could no longer afford to keep the store open, Deacon Maccubbin, the owner of Lambda Rising Bookstores in Washington, agreed to buy the store and keep it afloat. Then, in 2006, Kim Brinster, the store’s manager since 1996, became the store’s fifth owner. The bookstore, which currently occupies a storefront not much bigger than a typical Manhattan studio apartment, became a landmark institution for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.
The owner of Oscar Wilde says her landlord has been wonderful and that she was actually renting the space at below market value. So, at least this time, it’s not the typical “money-grubbing landlord” situation so famous in NYC.
I’ll admit that my own patronage of Oscar Wilde declined greatly once publicists started sending new releases to this here website thingy. But I still poked my head in anytime I went by because it’s such a cute little store with a very knowledgeable staff.
RELATED: Oscar Wilde Bookshop’s founder, Craig Rodwell, was once the boyfriend of Harvey Milk and is credited with helping spur Milk’s interest in gay activism.
UPDATE: The NY Examiner provides a look at the independent bookstores of the Village and SoHo.