Bluestockings Bookstore sits tucked away on Allen St. in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. This June, the radical, once feminist bookstore turns 15! The metamorphosis from strictly feminist politics to an amalgamated space for all forms of oppression is the very thing that has enabled the doors to stay open rather than shuttering like many others. Adaptability is key. The store was founded in 1999 by Kathryn Welsh. An erudite woman, at 23, Welsh worked to create a platform where women came together in order to share a collective dialogue and find community within the pertinent issues regarding feminism, classism, racism. Specifically Welsh sought to create a space for women of color. Creating visibility for the marginalized women whose voices often went unheard.
In the beginning, Bluestockings thrived as a space for political discussions and community events in all forms. It was a place where the idea was hosted and welcomed and left to be executed by participants. Bluestockings exists as the stage, a place to actualize connection, inclusion and radical politics. Not just a bookstore, but a watering hole for women to comingle and meet one another. Before there was a small niche for inclusivity of gay and lesbian people, places like this were invaluable for connecting with other like-minded feminists. Coming out of the 1970s the feminist bookstore was a utopia for networking and collective discussion. Welsh eventually disbanded the cooperative based model and assumed responsibility herself. Eventually, she reached the end of her rope and in 2003, sold the bookstore to Brooke Lehman and Hitomi Matarese.
Bluestockings reemerged having shed its’ feminist identity and opted for a more inclusive atmosphere, with a new intent to combat all forms of oppression the store focused on drawing attention to “global justice.” A shift necessary to adapt and move forward within the new political landscape. In the early 2000s competition from chain bookstores and an increased visibility for oppressed people saw the need for these places rapidly diminish. Though a certain level of visibility and respect was achieved thanks to the men and women whom fought for equality some decades ago, there was no longer a desperate need for community focused space. With the internet blossoming, community could be right under one’s fingertips. Bluestockings has carved a niche for itself in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
A fixture and welcome ground for intellect to shine with accomplished tenacity, the place is a haven for those seeking alternative media and an open welcoming space to simply be. Can we just take a moment and address that the store is operated and run by volunteers? People devote their time and energy to a project for the sole sake of its existence. That is the reason the categorical evolution was necessary. Perhaps not at the time, perhaps the shift was to avoid being shuttered, but now, eleven years later, the amalgamation of various forms of oppression has created a space where all people are represented and welcomed. Really a radical theory to unite than divide. Bluestockings has aged wisely.