Books | New York | News | Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde, Nation's Oldest Gay Bookshop, to Close in New York

The Oscar Wilde bookshop in Greenwich Village, said to be the nation's oldest gay bookstore, will close its doors due to the economy, City Room reports. A sad loss.

OscarwildebookshopWrote its current owner Kim Brinster in a letter to customers:

"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."

The store has had four previous owners, and Brinster says there's just no way to keep up in the economy: "Even if we were rent-free it wouldn’t be enough for us to cover the bills we have. This is one instance in New York where it’s not a case of the landlord gouging the tenant. Our landlord has always remarkable with us."

Philadelphia's gay bookstore, Giovanni's Room, celebrated its 35th birthday in October. At the time, its owner Ed Hermance expressed concern about who his successor might be.

Watch a 2007 interview with the folks at the Oscar Wilde Bookshop, AFTER THE JUMP...

Venerable Gay Bookstore Will Close [city room]

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  1. Well that just sucks out loud... :-(( The Oscar Wilde has been a GLBTQ landmark for decades. I know it's been on uncertain grounds for a while, but somehow I just thought it would always forge on.

    Posted by: John S. Hall | Feb 3, 2009 5:43:33 PM

  2. Independent bookstores are closing left and right all over the country. I wouldn't be surprised if A Different Light and Book Soup in West Hollywood will go he way of the dodo in the next few years.

    It is unfortunate. There's something very special about browsing in a physical bookstore. You just can't replicate the atmosphere of it online.

    Posted by: John in CA | Feb 3, 2009 6:10:30 PM

  3. Landmark status? Foundation? Geffen/Oscar Wilde Bookshop meet up/mash up library? Milk school satielite?

    Posted by: Chris | Feb 3, 2009 6:13:41 PM

  4. I'm in California, and I'm mourning the loss of this landmark for our community. It is just so sad that we can't seem to rally in order to save such a site.

    Posted by: Mike | Feb 3, 2009 8:04:04 PM

  5. 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 watched the first Stonewall riot from across the street. His bookstore WAS the first of its kind and deserving of being kept open somehow [paging rich gays] as much as any bookstore in the world.

    Posted by: Michael Bedwell | Feb 3, 2009 9:12:54 PM

  6. I lived in Giovanni's Room in Philadelphia when I resided in the city, and it was a vital piece in my coming out adventure. I can only image Oscar Wilde was the same for New Yorkers. How sad ...

    Posted by: Bob | Feb 3, 2009 9:15:30 PM

  7. I remember some years back, when The Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop was in danger of closing for good, that Lambda Rising stepped in at the last moment and bought the store, bringing it back from the brink before selling it to the manager. Maybe they could do the same again, or is that asking too much?

    Posted by: John S. Hall | Feb 3, 2009 9:45:49 PM

  8. Sad. More character gone from Christopher Street. Few remnants of the gay frontier it was remain. To the generations that came before us, those gay ghettos meant salvation.

    Oh well - this is the Internet age.

    Posted by: Andy | Feb 3, 2009 10:15:23 PM

  9. I was a scared, closeted, 16-year-old Baptist kid from Texas, in New York City for a high school drama trip. On our free afternoon, I was going to check out NYU...or so I told everyone. But I had two goals in mind...Christopher Street and the Oscar Wilde. I didn't buy anything...but I gaped and tried to not look like a deer in the headlights.

    That was 1980. Oh. how the world has changed. Across the country we've been watching the gay bookstores fold. InsightOutBooks almost shut down, many gay publishers have disappeared. Are we not supporting them, or does our support not make any difference in this economy?

    Sad, sad day.

    Posted by: notshychirev | Feb 3, 2009 11:07:54 PM

  10. I first came across Oscar Wilde Bookstore when it was still in a back street, a year or so before Stonewall, when I was a grad student at Fordham. I had no idea there were non-porn gay books, never mind enough to fill a bookstore! It made a difference to my self-acceptance, and when I came to NY every summer this was always a place to stop. So it BREAKS MY HEART to see it close! (And all the more because Kim and I were classmates at Fordham...

    Posted by: Jaime Vidal | Feb 4, 2009 12:29:23 AM

  11. I first came across Oscar Wilde Bookstore when it was still in a back street, a year or so before Stonewall, when I was a grad student at Fordham. I had no idea there were non-porn gay books, never mind enough to fill a bookstore! It made a difference to my self-acceptance, and when I came to NY every summer this was always a place to stop. So it BREAKS MY HEART to see it close! (And all the more because Kim and I were classmates at Fordham...

    Posted by: Jaime Vidal | Feb 4, 2009 12:30:22 AM

  12. a sad thing indeed, but if we look at this objectively, was this not the whole point of fighting for Gay Rights in the first place? "Gay" literature is now in every mainstream "Book Barn" and the like, not to mention widely available on the internet; we have de-marginalized ourselves to the point where places like Oscar Wilde et al are relics of another time, when shame filled 16 year old boys from Texas stood wide eyed in wonder at what the world held in store...

    And while it's sad that places like this are closing, I think I'd rather that than the alternative - a return to hiding one's sexuality in a brown paper bag on a side street...

    Posted by: Ron Oliver | Feb 4, 2009 3:03:51 AM

  13. Oh, this is so sad... I've been there only once before.

    Posted by: George | Feb 4, 2009 4:31:19 AM

  14. I agree with what Jaime said above; while the closing of OW is sad, I think its time has come--a market reality and a cultural one as well. In its day the store offered a haven for those who otherwise would have no access to books and magazines with alternative sexual content. Now I can go to the Borders or Barnes & Noble in Macon, Georgia or Decatur, Illinois and buy those books. Or I can go on-line and get it all, and more, at a variety of vendors. Sad that OW is leaving...and I will be making at least one more trip there. But I am glad that gay culture is so persuasive and unstoppable that it is now a part of everyday life.

    Posted by: David Ezell | Feb 4, 2009 7:42:38 AM

  15. While I am trying to convince myself that it is good overall that we are experiencing a mainstreaming of gay culture, I feel an overwhwelming personal loss at the closing of the touchstones of my own gay youth and maturation. I moved to the Big City a proverbial innocent country lad in 1978. "The Bookshop" (as it was known) was one of my first pilgrimage stops. I felt "home" immediately as I was surrounded by family. As AIDs tore through my community in the 80s, I could always find refuge there, surrounded by the spirits of those who had passed. I am bereft. . .where will the spirits of the Michaels (four beautiful and smart gay men), "Little" Bill, brilliant Aaron, gorgeous Paul, and all the others now reside? This is an irreplaceable and terrible loss for La Familia.

    Posted by: rudy | Feb 4, 2009 7:56:05 AM

  16. Wasn't this a Will & Grace episode?

    Posted by: JayDub | Feb 4, 2009 8:38:41 AM

  17. Thanks, Rudy, for saying it better than I ever could. Sigh....

    Posted by: mike | Feb 4, 2009 1:46:33 PM

  18. People are seriously misguided if they think they can find a comparable selection of gay books at a Barnes and Noble.

    There is no substitute for the range of backlist, out-of-print, specialized, obscure or quirky titles to be found at a well-stocked gay bookstore, even one as tiny as the Oscar Wilde. Not to mention a knowledgeable and committed staff.

    We used to have three gay bookstores in New York. Soon it will be zero. If this is the price of assimilation, where do I go to get a refund?

    Posted by: Eric | Feb 4, 2009 2:30:13 PM

  19. Time passes and Christopher Street and environs continues to change. So sorry to read about this. I live in Australia now, but spent many a pleasant afternoon at Oscar Wilde. A first-class venue with titles that were unavailable elsewhere.
    Sadly, access to literature has changed, and print media is being compromised around the world.

    Many thanks, Oscar Wilde, for being an important part of my 'formative' gay years.

    All the best!

    Posted by: Rob | Feb 4, 2009 10:20:00 PM

  20. Thank you Eric, you are so right about gay bookstores as compared to Barnes & Noble etc.

    A real loss to the community as well as a sentimental one.

    Posted by: Hank | Feb 4, 2009 11:08:13 PM

  21. I wandered into Oscar Wilde Bookstore in 1979, a timid college kid from Syracuse U peeping out of the closet and looking for his gay identity. I was immediately given a lecture and fiery inspiration from the visionary, fearless and truculent Craig Rodwell. It was all too much for this fledgling queer at first, but Craig planted seeds that turned me into an activist with ACT UP and Queer Nation. I mourn the inevitable passing of the Bookstore and celebrate its impact as a beacon for tens of thousands of footsoldiers in the war for gay rights.

    Posted by: Jay Blotcher | Feb 5, 2009 1:06:10 AM

  22. What "community" exists for this to possibly represent a loss for? Some never never land gaggle of young queers, huh? Or perhaps the oldsters...

    Posted by: TANK | Feb 5, 2009 2:05:06 AM

  23. Tank, Why are you so angry? (See also Bistro thread.) Perhaps it is because you have not found your community of gay friends. Maybe it is not important to you (now), but many of us oldsters cherish the family and neighborhoods that we formed for ourselves. The sites where we met, fell in love, and grieved at the losses played an indelible role in who we became. Mock the young queers and the oldsters at your peril. You have been the former and--if you are more fortunate than many of our brethren--will become the latter. I truly hope you find your community; the world is a very lonely place without others in your life. Those that decry it the loudest are missing it the most.

    Posted by: rudy | Feb 5, 2009 7:38:18 AM

  24. Rudy, I think you misinterpreted what I meant. That's understandable. I was being partially facetious, first off. It's not that I'm attacking the notion of a group of friends that one comes to have (we all have those) who happen to be lgb or t, but the notion of a mythic lgbt community that supports its own, has identifiable leaders who are young and intelligent fighting for our rights (a new generation). Politicians who aren't of yesteryear...who are members of what can be characterized as the current face of the lgbt "community" (barney frank clearly can't...he's sixty eight...who could possibly fill his seat? That's a scary thought for many reasons).

    What it looks like now isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it isn't a community. I don't know if it really ever was in the sense that it is packaged and marketed (all too much, in my opinion). I do know that from what I've heard, there was a sense of common purpose amongst a greater number of queers than exists today...of which there is none. Perhaps that was due to greater homophobia experienced by a greater number of queers. So maybe this is progress. It just seems, at times, that progress is mistaken for apathy, especially in light of the blistering losses recently met. It's not something I necessarily lament, only when it's harmful. I can say that the number of toxic damaged goods who are lgb or t doesn't seem to have diminished amongst our ranks.

    Posted by: TANK | Feb 5, 2009 1:33:36 PM

  25. Very sad news about the imminent closure of the Oscar Wilde bookstore. It was truly groundbreaking when it was established back in 1967 and visiting it and Giovanni's Room in Philadelphia inspired the people who set up Gay's The Word in London which this year celebrates its 30th anniversary. As manager of Gay's The Word, I've visited lots of lesbian and gay bookstores around the world and thought the Oscar Wilde a particularly nice store. Small but crammed with lots of interesting books and friendly knowledgeable staff. Yes, lesbian and gay books are all available online but nothing beats browsing in a bookstore, enthusing about the latest book you've read, having a passionate discussion about gay politics or a great play you've seen. Having lost A Different Light a few years back, I'm really surprised that a city the size of New York is unable to support such a great little bookstore.

    Posted by: Jim MacSweeney | Feb 5, 2009 7:55:32 PM

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