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Bluestockings Cooperative Bookstore revives the rent party

Bluestockings Rent Party Alexa Scordato | Wikimedia Commons

Bluestockings Cooperative Bookstore, a small LGBTQ+ and sex worker operated business hosted the first of planned monthly rent fundraising parties on Sept. 10. The parties will not only sell books but also feature vendors, tarot readers, food and drink, tattoo artists and performances by sex workers.

Rent parties are a part of New York City’s cultural legacy, with the first originating in 1920s Harlem, where Black residents called on the community to help pay rent in the face of racism that manifested as high rents and below average incomes. Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes would save invitations from the parties (now held with his papers at Yale) that advertised the live music and dancing available—as well as tongue-in-cheek declarations that, “We have plenty of girls tall and slim and they can do the Rhumba till its too bad jim”.

The party announcement comes as Bluestockings not only weathers the financial effects of an unexpected two-week closure for sidewalk repairs in January, but also navigates the impact of the ongoing pandemic on New York City’s small businesses.

In 2021 median storefront rents dropped in Manhattan, which reflected a shrinking demand for office spaces—and a decrease in business, according to a report by the nonprofit Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development. This shift is unlikely to completely reverse, as Vox reported that many newly-remote employees felt their increased autonomy gave them a better work-life balance and reduced both the stress and expense of commuting, as well as their risk of infection.

In all other boroughs, the report identified landlords increasing storefront rents—primarily in communities where the majority of residents are people of color.

Bluestockings’ history has been indicative of the unique relationships small businesses can have with the communities they serve and their vulnerability.

The business was founded in 1999 as a feminist bookstore, a kind of activist and community space born from earlier feminist and queer selfpublishing movements in the 1970s. Feminist bookstores of the time operated on small margins and faced increasing competition from the rise of online retailers. Amazon Bookstore, one of the first in North America (whose fictional counterpart found its way into pop culture through Alison Bechdel’s long-running cartoon strip, “Dykes To Watch Out For”) would lose businesses to Amazon, Inc. and close in 2012.

The feminist bookstores that remain open today continue to serve as spaces for community serviceincluding in the form of anti bookbanning efforts. Their numbers are increasing within the US—from an all-time low of 13 in 2014 to 30 in 2017.

Bluestockings was sold in 2003 due to the economic toll the September 11 attacks took on Manhattan.

The bookstore saw its business model undergo a period of flux. It became a worker co-op supported by volunteers until after the 2009 Great Recession when worker-owners decided to stop paying themselves—essentially making everyone a volunteer.

In 2020 Bluestockings became a worker-owned co-op once again, as all worker-owners are paid. It moved locations from Allen Street to Suffolk Street with the help of a community-supported GoFundMe campaign that raised over $100,000 due to their former landlord not fixing structural issues in the old building.

Today, Bluestockings, in addition to selling books and independently published zines, also stocks stickers, posters, clothing and bags. Inside is a cafe space decorated with pride flags and an ever-increasing amount of graffiti.

It is also notable for its mutual aid services, which include a free store offering free fentanyl strips and Narcan training, contraceptives COVID rapid tests and masks. Bluestockings continues to require masking

In an Instagram statement from June, Bluestockings stated that it remains committed to providing these services, despite receiving some backlash.

“For the past few months, some residential neighbors have been voicing to us and the police their unhappiness with our unhoused community members enjoying the space,” Bluestockings said.

The bookstore cited rising opioid overdose rates and pandemic-induced homelessness as a reason why these services are important.

Bluestockings plans to host more rent parties on a monthly basis. The bookstore also offers a monthly book club, which will meet on Sept. 15 to discuss “Las Biuty Queens” by Iván Monalisa Ojeda.

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Alexandra Adelina Nita
Alexandra Adelina Nita, Graphics Editor
Alexandra Adelina Nita is the Graphics Editor for The Ticker.
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  • J

    JeriSep 18, 2023 at 10:47 am

    I think it’s important to note that the residential neighbors were unhappy with the increase in drug dealing on the street outside the store that came hand in hand with the needle exchange program/fentanyl testing and the lack of medical/mental health services that needed to be available to the unhoused population that were also having addiction issues. No one suggested that the services offered by Bluestocking were unnecessary. The problem was that after book store hours the same people who needed their services were passing out on the neighborhood residential entryways, leaving sharps on the sidewalk near a preschool, and publicly urinating etc. The city including community board, council members and police did nothing to help these people despite repeated requests from residents.