The Women's Bookstop
The Women’s Bookstop on 333 Main St. W. was the first and only feminist and queer bookstore in Hamilton, Ontario. Opened in 1985, in the early days of the bookstore, Albrecht recalls one queer woman who practically “tiptoed” into the store but became braver as she saw an entire section and shelves consisting of queer women and lesbian texts.1 The Bookstop was, first and foremost, a meeting-place for women and queer women to meet and empower each other.
In these interviews below, owner Renee Albrecht discusses the need for a public space for women and queer women or folks to gather, discuss, and learn about emerging feminist and queer/lesbian-feminist thought in Hamilton. Along with prominent and powerful feminist texts of the time, Cole Gately – a trans activist and community steward in Hamilton – remembers how the shelves also “involved queer titles.”2 In the beginning stages of the Bookstop, Albrecht first remembers how the lesbian and queer folks of colour “section” was limited to one or two titles.3 However, with inspiration from queer women and queer women of colour in the city, Albrecht and the Bookstop expanded their shelves. As a part of this wider expansion, the Bookstop also became a member of the bi-monthly newsletter of the international Feminist Bookstore News (FBN). This network connected the Bookstop to a larger network of feminists, queer bookstore spaces. With diverse and varied booklists, the FBN connected the Women’s Bookstop within a larger cultural conversation on feminism, lesbian-feminism, and on the lives and way of being for queer women and folks. This network was first create by Carol Ceajay, and these newsletters and booklists could provide information on the newest and thought-provoking feminist texts, such as poetry by Dionne Brand, theory by Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde, and up and coming publishing houses like Press Gang Publishers.4 As owner Albrecht recalls, the bookstore’s tie to the lesbian feminist and women’s liberation movement was cemented by the radical texts found within the FBN network. To learn more about this network, and its anti-racist work, see Kristen Hogan’s The Feminist Bookstore Movement: Lesbian Antiracism and Feminist Accountability. The Women’s Bookstop, however, was not just a simple bookstore. It was one of the core meeting-places and organizational spaces for the Hamilton queer community. For some feminist and queer folks, the Bookstop was a home.
Further along in these interview transcripts, Albrecht remarks fondly when recalling hominess of the Bookstop: “Oh thank goodness, I feel at home.”5 This feeling was echoed by past employee Gately, who described “a real sense of familiarity and family around” the bookstore in the early 1990s.6 The Women’s Bookstop also hosted and organized women-only and queer events. Either at the bookstore, at the YWCA, or the Ontario Workers Arts & Heritage Center, the Bookstop hosted “Take Back the Night Dances,” lesbian dances, and local or national political advocacy gatherings. Additionally, the Bookstop was participated in important communal networking with the Hamilton Women’s Centre and the Sexual Assault Centre in Hamilton.
1 See Albrecht’s interview conducted by Emma Rockwood for Points of Pride on August 13, 2021
2 See Gately’s interview conducted by Maryssa Barras and Emma Rockwood for Points of Pride on August 10, 2021
3 Albrecht, Points of Pride, 2021
4 Kirsten Hogan, The Feminist Bookstore Movement: Lesbian Antiracism and Feminist Accountability, Duke University Press, 2016, pp. 14, 54, 135, 156.
5 Albrecht, Points of Pride, 2021
6 Gately, Points of Pride, 2021