Main Street Books in Lafayette, Ind., is a favorite of Angry Robot Books publicist Caroline Lambe, who appreciates the eight-year-old indie as a “wonderful proactive supporter of inclusivity, regularly posting on its socials about the book buying bans and what positive action to take.” In Lambe’s letter nominating the shop for PW’s 2023 Bookstore of the Year, she also mentioned its front area, where the Biggest Gayest Table “celebrates a vast array of authors and genres, for adults and YA readers.” She added, “They interact with authors, book buyers, publishers—everyone—personally on social media. They are part of a fantastic community. It has been a joy seeing what they do.”

A chat with owner Laura Kendall confirms Lambe’s assessment. “We try to emphasize diversity and accessibility,” she says of the general bookstore in downtown Lafayette, which sells a 50-50 mix of new and used books for adults and children in its 1,600-sq.-ft. retail area. “Every voice should be allowed to be heard, and readers should see themselves represented in books.”

The store changed hands in August when Kendall purchased it from Ted Malone, the widower of its founder, Tamzin Malone, who died in 2021. Kendall, who holds an MFA in writing from Butler University, also owns Second Flight Bookshop, a used bookstore in another part of town that she opened in November 2016.

The Biggest Gayest Table display, Kendall says, was the brainchild of Main Street’s sole full-time employee, Kel Russell. Russell used to work at a local Barnes & Noble outlet, where she was only allowed to set up a display of LGBTQ books in June to mark Gay Pride Month. “When she came to Main Street, she said she wanted to have the biggest, gayest table of books in the front of the store to make up for that,” Kendall says. “I told her to go ahead.”

The store draws a mix of nearby Purdue University students, their parents, blue-collar workers, and people living in the rural areas around Lafayette. While the front-table display “makes most customers happy, occasionally I have people who don’t like it. Some people walk in, see it, and walk right out. Lafayette is more liberal than most Indiana towns, but it’s still purple.”

As a progressive bookseller in one of the country’s more conservative states, Kendall is committed to spotlighting LGBTQ books and also determined to defend banned books, many of which are written by BIPOC authors. She feels a responsibility to make customers aware of bills such as one recently passed in the Indiana Senate that makes it easier for parents to challenge books, and a proposal by a local school board member that would compel teachers to apprise the board of all books used in their classrooms.

“I want to help teachers,” Kendall says. “Speaking out, being vocal about it to the media is one big thing. I want people to be aware. They’re doing all this at such a clip, it’s hard to keep track.”

Current events have led to some difficult decisions, such as opting against hosting drag story hours. “Tamzin had drag story hours at the store, and I’d love to do it,” she explains. “But I have to think of the safety of my staff.” The night before Kendall spoke with PW, a bomb threat was made against Indie Reads, an Indianapolis nonprofit bookstore that hosts monthly drag story hours.

Since Kendall took over Main Street Books, sales have been up 100% year over year, indicating that she’s giving customers what they want. She’s updated the used book inventory and mixed into it remaindered books; increased the ratio of new books to used; started selling sidelines such as magnets and stickers; set up a TikTok channel; and is shelving horror and romance in dedicated sections. At the same time, she’s mindful of the original owner’s legacy, which made Main Street renowned for its wide selection of SFF titles.

“People are liking what we’re doing, the changes we’ve made,” she notes. “I think Tamzin would agree with a lot of the things we’ve done. She would have supported what we’ve done to make the store more diverse and accessible.”

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