D.C. Gay Bookstore Latest To Close

Lambda Rising, a Washington, D.C., icon for more than 30 years, is going out of business. Its owners say the store is still doing well but it's time for them to move on. It's the latest gay bookstore closing in what's become a national trend over the past few years. Guy Raz talks to Lambda Rising's co-owner, Deacon Maccubbin.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

GUY RAZ, host:

We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

Early next year, Washington, D.C., is expected to join Massachusetts, Iowa and a few other states as one of the few places in America where gay marriages are recognized by law. But just as the city's mayor signed the bill to make same-sex marriages legal, one of Washington's oldest gay landmarks announced it's shutting down.

Unidentified Woman: Hello.

Unidentified Man: Hi, guys.

RAZ: Lambda Rising opened in 1974. It was one of the first exclusively gay-oriented bookstores in America. And it quickly became a gathering place for the city's gay community. But over the years across America, gay book shops like Lambda Rising have started to close, the result of online shopping and what some observers call the mainstreaming of gay culture.

We stopped by Lambda Rising a few days ago to find out why owner Deacon Maccubbin decided to call it a day.

Mr. DEACON MACCUBBIN (Owner, Lambda Rising): We've had a mission, and the mission was to prove to authors and publishers and other bookstores that there was a market for gay and lesbian literature. In the early '70s, I went to a bookstore right here in Dupont Circle, and I asked the manager, who was behind the counter at the time, where I could find the gay books in the store. And he looked through his glasses and down his long nose at me and said, we don't carry those kind of books.

RAZ: Almost like you were - perverse.

Mr. MACCUBBIN: Like I was looking for porn.

RAZ: Yeah.

Mr. MACCUBBIN: That's what the image was of gay literature at the time. There were porn books that were gay literature, and that was it. It's really rare to find a general bookstore these days that doesn't carry gay and lesbian literature. It doesn't mean there's not still a need for a gay and lesbian bookstore - I think there is. But the crushing need that was there in the '70s and '80s is less so today.

Also, I've been doing this for 35 years. And I think 35 years is long enough for any one person to do one thing. We had people that wanted to buy the business and continue to run it, but they were mostly investors. They didn't share the same community connection that we had always had. And I just decided I couldn't stomach walking down the street and seeing my store in the hands of somebody else running it a different way.

RAZ: When you opened this store in 1974, at the beginning, in the early days, did people sort of creep in, in secret?

Mr. MACCUBBIN: Yeah.

RAZ: Did they sort of look around to make sure that they didn't know anyone else in the store?

Mr. MACCUBBIN: A lot did because they were closeted, they were worried, they were nervous. The same way they would've been if they were going into a gay bar or any other gay business. They screwed up their courage enough to come on into the store, and I think that helped them take those first steps out of the closet.

RAZ: So in some ways, it's kind of an irony because gay and lesbian literature and the gay movement has sort of entered the mainstream now. And so, that fact has kind of resulted in stores like Lambda Rising kind of fading out, going away.

Mr. MACCUBBIN: Well, I think that's true. It's actually less true in our case than it has been in the case of some other stores. We could've continued to operate for a number of years. However, we also are realists. We see what's happening to bookstores generally, to independent bookstores in particular, and to the book industry, the way it's shifting in what people buy and how they buy.

And probably in another - I don't know - two, three, four, five years, we would've started to see effects in our store. We wouldn't have been able to keep the 20,000 or so titles that we stock on a regular basis. We couldn't have given the same kind of service and attention that we've been used to giving over 35 years. And I didn't want us to get to that point.

RAZ: You're closing the shop around the same time that the city of Washington, D.C., has passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage. How do you feel about that?

Mr. MACCUBBIN: I feel wonderful. Both Jim and I feel fabulous about this. It's something we fought for pretty much all our lives. Jim and I have been together for 32 years. We got married in a church - a church blessed our holy union along with 350 of our closest friends, including some members of the council and what have you. But the government wasn't blessing that union at that time. And now, 30 - or 28 years later, immediately after the vote was taken at the City Council building the other day, I went out in the hallway, got down on my knees, and proposed to Jim again. And amazingly enough, after 32 years, he said yes again, too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MACCUBBIN: I was thrilled.

RAZ: That's Deacon Maccubbin. He is the co-owner of the Washington, D.C., bookstore Lambda Rising. The store will be closing in early 2010.

Deacon Maccubbin, thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. MACCUBBIN: Thank you. It was my pleasure.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: