Gay Bookstore Death Watch: Lambda Rising

Another gay bookstore has announced its doors are shutting. Lambda Rising, with two locations in Washington D.C. and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware closing in early January, according to a message on Facebook:

Lambda "Lambda Rising, known for 35 years as Washington’s “bookstore that celebrates the gay and lesbian experience,” has announced the imminent closing of their two stores in Washington DC and Rehoboth Beach DE.

“The phrase ‘mission accomplished’ has gotten a bad rap in recent years,” said Deacon Maccubbin, Lambda Rising’s founder and co-owner, 'but in this case, it certainly applies. When we set out to establish Lambda Rising in 1974, it was intended as a demonstration of the demand for gay and lesbian literature.' Maccubbin founded Lambda Rising on a shoestring – the initial investment consisted of $3,000 he had saved and another $1,000 borrowed from a local gay activist. When the store opened June 8, 1974 in a 300 square foot room in a townhouse on 20th Street NW, it boasted 250 gay and lesbian book titles. “That’s all there were at the time,” Maccubbin explains.

But it was enough to capture the attention and the loyal patronage of Washington’s glbt community. It also captured the attention of anti-gay forces – phone harassment was an almost daily occurrence, bricks were hurled through windows, and police had to bring their bomb-sniffing dogs following some threats. But the staff held their ground and kept the doors open seven days a week. 'Over the years, we have been blessed with wonderful staff members, people who shared the vision and who were committed to being on the front lines of the battle for glbt equality every day. I will forever be grateful to them,' Maccubbin said."

This trend appears to be accelerating. Late last month I posted about the closing of Indianapolis' only gay bookstore, Out Word Bound.

(image suite 101)


  1. cd says

    I’ve picked up people and avoided convicted felons there and seen myself get older in their fulllength mirror but when they said this place isn’t for browsers, they lost my business. More about service than about closing another gay icon. RIP Lambda Rising.

  2. Critifur says

    @CD – well it doesn’t sound like they lost your business at all if by business you mean cruising the place like it was the airport side adult bookstore.

  3. John S. Hall says

    From what I understand, the owner is closing these stores mainly because he wants to retire, and I don’t know that anyone was willing to take up the mantle.

    Deacon has been one of the gay bookstore community’s stalwarts — if it hadn’t been for him, Oscar Wilde in NYC would’ve gone out of business years before it did — and I thank him for his hard work over the years.

  4. NewEng says

    I think this is typical of booksellers across the country and not specific to specialized retailer. If a good online site develops with serious GLBT media I think it would become more available to a greater number of people and not just those living in metro areas.

  5. Ted B. (Charging Rhino) says

    Our local Barnes&Noble got rid of it’s ‘gay and lesbian” section recently. At-first I thought that it was the Christianist bigots at-work, but it wasn’t. The management apparently decided that they didn’t need a “special section” for G/L issues anymore…and the same books are now just mixed-in with the otherwise hetero-orientated books on sex, relationships, and fiction as part of the broad spectrum of possibilities.

    And the high-school kids are so-much more sophisicated or innured to it all. Last year I was in the B&N cafe’ and a mixed-sex group of 6 or 7 HS kids were clustered around while one quietly read aloud…like some ‘ordinary’ bookclub gathering. I was a-liitle taken aback once I relised they were reading from A.N. Roquelaure’s (Anne Rice) “Beauty’s Punishment” Teenagers of both sexes reading a-loud gay porn in a public place without any giggles or uncomfortable squirming…like it was Charles Dickens.

  6. says

    I worked at Lambda Rising when it was on S Street in 1978, the year, I respectfully submit, was the first full year of the golden age of gay DC even tho Gay Pride was still small enough to fit mostly into the street directly in front of our door. Way back then, new mayor Marion Barry was still thankful that gays had helped elect him, not the antigay loon he seems to have become, & Harvey Milk was just “some guy out in San Francisco.”

    I did window displays & organized events such as the book signing party for Andrew Holleran & “Dancer from the Dance” [after which two young fools called to see exactly what they’d chosen to ingest from my book-themed display (fake Qualudes) and the LP [yes] signing party for Barbara Cook, and promoted fundraisers starring Eartha Kitt [divine] and Grace Jones [buffoon].

    LR was the heart of the community then for many gays—they came through the door as if they were visiting a beloved family member, and not just those young, out, and liberal…though it was his chauffeur who walked in and not then-famous right wing columnist Joseph Alsop himself who paid for a copy of “Dance” with a check bearing Alsop’s name. [I didn’t know then that, tho married, his was an open secret among even Repugs after the Soviets had failed to successfully blackmail him with pix of him and a KGB agent in flagrante.]

    I grieve not just the death of community institutions like LR but that of so many whose smiling faces I can still see surrounded by its shelves. Thank you, Deacon, for those memories, and for being such a unique player in our revolution.

    And, no, I don’t agree with those who insist such spaces no longer have a function.

  7. David C. says

    My first gay bookstore! I went to college in DC in the early 80’s and was so thankful to have a place to go to like Lambda. I have many fond memories of the little store on S Street: the clerk (Aimes) I briefly dated, my first gay novels, and time browsing (truly browsing) for books. Thank you Lambda. You will forever be remembered!!! xox

  8. cornstarch says

    The owner made no public attempt to have it continue.

    He sold the property to an undisclosed buyer. The bookstore was never even given an opportunity to continue; it was simply closed.

    The same for the other locations of the store.

    I consider this totally selfish behavior on the part of the owner, Deacon. If he really wants to help the community, at least allow others to pay for the store, its stock and set up somewhere, anywhere.

    Instead, he just chucks the whole thing.


  9. WildBlue says

    I think it’s a huge mistake to believe that gay bookstores no longer have a place. As a straight person, I’m aware how unfriendly the world still is to gay and lesbian concerns. Now there’s no gay bookstore, what incentive will the straight bookstores have to cover gay issues? Very little. They aren’t in existence to be concerned about gay and lesbian issues, they’re out there to make money.

    Where will the young gay or lesbian teen be able to go to find a safe harbor and good information? Now where. Yes, there’s the world wide web, but there’s something to be said for a place you can go if you need help or information.

    In addition to selling gay/lesbian books and supplies, they also served as a community contact point – and I don’t just mean pick ups — the community wall at the back of lambda rising helped a lot of people exchange resources, promoted g/l art, find roommates… it was a community resource, not just a book store. I’m very sad it’s gone. I wish I believed that we were in a post-anti-gay world. Unfortunately, I think this may just be the lull in the storm.

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