Nation's Oldest Gay And Lesbian Bookstore Closes The country's oldest gay and lesbian bookstore — The Oscar Wilde Bookshop in Manhattan — is closing its doors. Weekend All Things Considered producer Zoe Chace remembers the time she spent there.

Nation's Oldest Gay And Lesbian Bookstore Closes

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


There's another gay landmark leaving the scene, far from the glitz of Hollywood. It's a tiny brick storefront in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, The Oscar Wilde Bookshop, the country's oldest gay and lesbian bookstore.

One of our producers, Zoe Chase, grew up in New York, and she spent many a youthful weekend there. She sends this postcard.

ZOE CHASE: I stood around here for years, never saying anything. This time, I introduced myself.

Ms. CECILIA MARTIN (Manager, The Oscar Wilde Bookshop): Hi.

CHASE: I'm Zoe.

Ms. MARTIN: Hi, Zoe.

CHASE: Are you Cecilia?

Ms. MARTIN: Yeah, I am.

CHASE: Hey, what's up?

Cecilia Martin is the manager of the Oscar Wilde Bookshop. She's got a week of work left. The store closes next Sunday.

Ms. MARTIN: Now that the Euro has kind of tanked and the tourists aren't coming in, and then locally because our own economy is going down the toilet, we just don't have any customers.

CHASE: Almost no one is buying books here. I certainly never did, as I confessed to Kim Brinster, the current owner.

You guys used to have this lip balm that was like rainbow.

Ms. KIM BRINSTER (Owner, The Oscar Wilde Bookshop): Oh yeah.

CHASE: I would buy those by the dozen.

Ms. BRINSTER: Do you really want to (unintelligible)? Come on.

CHASE: I read a lot of books while standing in here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHASE: Brinster bought the place in 2006 after managing it for 10 years. She says these days, kids come in with their parents and look around. So, has New York City outgrown this gay sanctuary? The bookstore's at the intersection of Christopher and Gay Streets, arguably the gayest corner in New York City.

It was just down the block that the Stonewall protests erupted in 1969, ground zero for the gay rights movement. It was here, 30 years later, that I kissed a girl for the first time, just a couple feet from the stoop of the store.

Ms. MARTIN: It's kind of like the old general store, you know, where everybody sits around the heat pipe and has a cup of coffee and (unintelligible) on about politics and what's going on and what's new to read and what's good.

CHASE: Craig Rodwell founded the Oscar Wilde in 1969. He was one of Harvey Milk's early boyfriends. There weren't many gay books then, but there were lots of gay people looking for a place to go. Legend has it that the city's first gay pride march was planned in the store's back room.

(Soundbite of music)

CHASE: But now, even if the economy comes back, it's hard to imagine this bookstore coming back with it. The culture it nurtured and supported has moved on, spread out. But although this town is suddenly short on cash, I bet the supply of angsty 10th graders remains robust, and they'll want somewhere to go.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman #4 (Singer): (Singing) I've kissed a girl. I kissed a girl.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.