Many in the publishing industry were saddened to hear on Thursday, Jan. 26, that Outwrite Books & Coffeehouse, which had served the GLBT community in Atlanta since 1993, had closed its doors. The Tip Sheet caught up with Outwrite owner Philip Rafshoon, who cited several factors forcing him to close his store and file for bankruptcy protection, including changes in the publishing industry, a fragile economy, and rising rents in his Midtown location, which has gentrified and become a trendy hotspot in the years since he opened Outwrite.
What has the reaction been to your closing Outwrite Books & Coffeehouse?
It has been met with incredible sadness and disappointment. We have had so many offers of support, thanks, and gratitude for everything that we have done and those we supported over the years. While we have been very open for many months about the possibility that we could close, the reality is still a shock to many in our communities. As there are just a few GLBT Bookstores left in the country, Outwrite was a place that made Atlanta special.
Outwrite opened in 1993, at a time when there was a gay/lesbian bookstore in almost every large city in the country. Today, there are perhaps a half-dozen GLBT bookstores nationwide. Do you think there's still a place for GLBT bookstores, and, if so, what can they do to thrive?
While life for GLBT people has improved greatly throughout the world, there is still a need for visible GLBT bookstores in every community. Thousands of people came through Outwrite in the past two months and spoke about how much they still depended on the store on a regular basis. What we learned also in the last few months was that good sale pricing was incredibly important. We found some great high margin sidelines, bargain books, and used books, put them on sale and they flew out the door. A strong shop local program can make LGBT bookstores successful.
What's the most memorable author event you hosted at Outwrite and why?
There are so many local authors, poets, and musicians that we nurtured and big names that we hosted, including Greg Louganis, Jodi Picoult, RuPaul, and Chelsea Handler, but the one that was most special was Tammy Fay Baker, who was Tammy Fay Messner at the time she came in 2003 for her book I Will Survive, and You Can Too.
Here was this worldwide symbol of evangelical Christianity, a religion not noted for its acceptance of the LGBT community, explaining her groundbreaking and controversial acceptance of HIV positive people on Jim and Tammy's PTL club and her support of gays and lesbians throughout her life. When she had everyone sing "We Are Blessed" with her, the overflow audience was in tears; you could hear a pin drop in the room.