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Contents for Holt Uncensored #161
Tuesday, June 20, 2000


I can't remember a more hilarious or tragic letter than John Mitzel's farewell notice about the closing of Glad Day Bookshop.

It's an occasion that makes one wonder which is "worse" -- being gay or being an independent bookseller in Boston.

Thanks to the very funny and outraged language of store manager Mitzel, the letter keeps us chuckling while our jaws drop in shock at the turn of events after Glad Day, which serves the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community (click over to and see how extensive it is) learned that it had lost its lease.

Glad Day's landlord had sold the building, which will soon be converted into "luxury residential condominiums." It seems the dotcom invasion has hit Boston in the same way it has other cities, driving property values into nosebleed territory.

So this is not the familiar story of an independent bookstore struggling to stay alive and sinking, sinking until finally the Good Fight has exhausted owners and staff and forced a heart-breaking end.

It's rather the saga of an established and healthy 21-year-old independent bookstore that has been looking to relocate since April, and whose owner, Jearld Moldenhauer, is ready and willing to pay for new digs in the Boston area. And still the end is heart- breaking.

"One space we very much desired," Mitzel writes, "turned out to be in the hands of a corporation that toyed with us for weeks, wasting our time, ultimately rejecting us, allegedly for 'not having the right financials,' whatever that means.

"I asked another realtor: 'Doesn't being successful in the community for 21 years mean anything?'

"He said: 'They don't see that. They want a national chain with deep pockets, so if they have to sue to get the rent, the chain just cuts the check and they don't have to chase after the Mom and the Pop that went out.' "

Glad Day hardly fits the bill of the Mom and Pop struggling concern. "We are a successful small independent bookshop in a niche market which we have serviced in a comprehensive manner since 1979," Mitzel writes. "We have a staff of seven; the store pays for the full health coverage plan for all the full-time staffers. We have extensive dealings with libraries, book clubs, school groups, etc."

Not extensive enough, apparently: "I asked after a property [that one realtor] represented," writes Mitzel. "I told him what our business was. There was a -- what used to be termed pregnant (why?) -- pause. He told me: 'No one in the Back Bay will rent to people like you.' I am rarely at a loss for words; this gent's statement had me breathless.

"I recalled the 1970s in Boston, after a Federal Judge had ordered busing as a mandated remedy for public school segregation. The busing set off a civil war here in Boston, from which we still bear scars. One black leader at that time was on the TV, being asked by a journalist his thoughts on the 'busing crisis.' The gentleman looked at the camera and said: 'It's not the bus. It's US!' This would become my/our threnody.

"We were shown run-down traps with asbestos walls. One joint had a hole in the floor. I found a nice spot in 'upcoming' Central Square in Cambridge. The elderly gent who owned the property had his lesbian daughter come over and check us out. We didn't pass the test. She told the realtor, who told us: 'Too much male imagery.' Well, there you are . . .

"I have never been one to sing the praises of the rentier class, and my recent experiences make all my radical and critical tendencies against the greedy landlord class even more agitated. What have I learned?

"Glad Day owner Jearld Moldenhauer and I were reminiscing about what we had faced in getting our previous two locations. Guess what? The same as this go-round: the subtle (and in some cases not so subtle) prejudice against a gay book business with a pro- sex attitude--and, yes, we have always carried all the books and magazines, soft and hard, for our market, part of Glad Day's complete commitment to offering all legal product to our community.

"Some realtors had no idea what a gay/lesbian bookshop was about. One said: 'Don't you have those peep shows that cost a quarter?' At least he seemed to know about them.

"One realtor, after I informed him that we were an independent gay and lesbian bookseller, paused -- that awful pause, well, you just know what's coming, don't you? -- and this fellow said: 'An independent bookseller. How quaint. Doesn't everybody simply buy their books on' Rentier class meets the thundering dunderheads.

"The Pod People really have taken over. Jearld Moldenhauer, just yesterday, was speaking with someone who works in the Mayor's office about our situation, and Moldenhauer said: 'The reason I decided to open a bookshop here in Boston [he already had a shop in Toronto, Ontario] back in the '70s was not only because Boston had a progressive and very active gay movement, but because Boston was a book town, with lots of bookstores and used bookstores and a culture of books.'

"One by one we have seen them go down, and not just the sweet independents but the chain stores, too. The real estate market has got too hot and too greedy to want to 'risk' those enterprises that add cultural value to this town . . .

"I asked one realtor, after we had been shot down, why there are now sixteen --16! -- Starbucks coffee joints in Back Bay and the South End. In the war against drugs, caffeine seems to be the winner.

"So, now Boston, once a great city of books and youth and venues of intellectual creativity and dissent, comes to look like every other American 'mall' city.

"I thought Glad Day had a chance to go on -- you know, they won't even take our money. Friends assure me the crash will come, some of the greediest will go head first out the windows, a la 1929, overleveraged and never knowing a downturn. We'll see about that.

"Thus the boom has given us this: more of the same and the killing off of the odd, niche, daring and different . . .

"I recommend to our on-line and e-mail friends that you look to our sister store in Toronto, the original store, and all inquiries and orders and requests you will find served as well as here in Boston. You can reach them at: Glad Day Bookshop, 598A Yonge Street, Toronto, Ontario, M4Y 1Z3, Canada. Phone: 416-961-4161. Fax: 416-961-1624. E-mail: [email protected]

"I can't possibly say Good-Bye. It would break my hard-hearted heart. For Jearld Moldenhauer, the staff and myself, I will say to you: 'Ciao!' And THANK YOU ALL!"

Loss of independent retailers has become an old story, of course, ever since chain stores and the big-box superstores arrived decades ago. I thought I had gotten used to getting out of the car in Anytown USA and seeing the same familiar mix of Office Max, Home Depot, Starbucks, Target, Sears, Denny's and so forth.

But now, looking at the urban landscape through Mitzel's eyes and thinking again about the speed, speed, speed theme of the last column (#160), suddenly I see it. What he calls the Pod People are working this "hot and greedy" real estate market like puppeteers, with dot.coms slithering in everywhere and making people THINK remaining independent retailers are out of fashion, shaky to their foundations and expendable.

To think observers thought (okay, I thought) the worst that could happen to independent booksellers was adjusting too late to electronic books. This new threat - rents soaring, buildings sold, leases lost - in cities and suburbs already mined with DSL for the revolution, could not come at a worse time.

Didn't find what you are looking for? We've been online since 1996 and have created 1000's of pages. Search below and you may find just what you are looking for.

Michael R. Meuser
Data Research & GIS Specialist is an independent firm specializing in GIS project development and data research. We created the first U.S. based interactive toxic chemical facility maps on the internet in 1996 and we have been online ever since. Learn more about us and our services.

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