Nancy Polikoff

Lambda Rising bookstore closing after Christmas

Filed By Nancy Polikoff | December 06, 2009 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: gay bookstores, Lambda rising

Washington DC's gay bookstore, Lambda Rising, is closing after 35 years. In announcing the closing, founder and co-owner Deacon Maccubin has self-consciously declared "mission accomplished." The store's Rehoboth Beach, DE location will also close.

The website announcement includes a touching history of the 35 years of the store's existence. I'm not so much interested in second-guessing the decision to close as I am in considering what public spaces remain for various segments of the LGBT community. I know that I feel "at home" at the amazing Busboys and Poets, a gay-friendly space combining food, drink, and coffee with books and performance/meeting space. But in reviewing the comments posted on the DC Agenda website (for those of you who missed it, the Washington Blade closed last month; its staff is now working on a new publication, DC Agenda), I'm sure many commenters would need someplace different.

It's not the responsibility of a bookstore to remain just to be a gathering place or de facto community center. But there will always be LGBT people coming out who need a safe, public space that is not a bar. Where now?


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I worked at Lambda Rising when it was on S Street in 1978, the year, I respectfully submit, was the first full year of the golden age of gay DC even tho Gay Pride was still small enough to fit mostly into the street directly in front of our door. Way back then, new mayor Marion Barry was still thankful that gays had helped elect him, not the antigay loon he seem's to have become, & Harvey Milk was just "some guy out in San Francisco."

I did window displays & organized events such as the book signing party for Andrew Holleran & "Dancer from the Dance" [after which two young fools called to see exactly what they'd chosen to ingest from my book-themed display (fake Qualudes) and the LP [yes] signing party for Barbara Cook, and promoted fundraisers starring Eartha Kitt [divine] and Grace Jones [buffoon].

LR was the heart of the community for many gays—they came through the door as if they were visiting a beloved family member, and not just those young, out, and liberal...though it was his chauffeur who walked in and not then-famous right wing columnist Joseph Alsop himself who paid for a copy of "Dance" with a check bearing Alsop's name.

I grieve not just the death of community institutions like LR but that of so many whose smiling faces I can still see surrounded by its shelves. Thank you, Deacon, for those memories, and for being such a unique player in our revolution.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | December 6, 2009 10:13 PM

I remember Michael. I also remember Vito stating that success would be defined by there being Gays in every straight bar and straights in every Gay bar. :) It is an evolution, it is different, it feels unwelcome and it is inevitable.

Could either of us have imagined a Gay Straight Alliance in high schools in 1970's? I don't think so.

Much as I would love there to be a "cocoon" for the young ones (as Nancy asserts) the lack of affordable, safe, locations and the decline in the entire independent book store numbers means that soon we will have only mega stores, internet sales and the internet itself. So we will have both more and less variety than ever before.

We need to develop LGBT community centers (with reading rooms) for all ages who desire a non alcohol based meeting place and it needs to be at no cost. We patronized and donated to one in Florida which included an internet room for LGBT persons to use for information and access to shelter (if needed)research and employment searches. This place also served as the meeting place for Gay AA groups in the area.

I have often said we need to look for our natural allies and a broad coalition of Gay organizations,"Integrity," MCC, LGBT Veterans groups, PFLAG, Gay Chamber of Commerce, AA, and private philanthropy can get this done. If we could just get past marriage all the time. We need a lot more community centers building from the grassroots up.

Here in Washingtin DC, four influences shaped most persons' gay identities in my generation: bars, baths, Blade and books (Lambda Rising).

I was never into the bar or baths scene, so for me, the (now defunct) Blade and (soon to be defunct) books at Lambda Rising meant alot for me.

I found answers, friends, and community. Deacon Maccubbin, owner of Lambda Rising, deserves huge credit for his immense contribution to so many of us. One of his biggest achievements was starting the first gay pride celebrations here in Washington DC, and running them the first five years.

Loosing the Blade and not Lambda Rising within a couple months of each other are huge hits for the DC community, and the thousands touched by Lambda from out of town when they visited, or by internet. I see no reason why the book clubs can not continue, but a gay space really is important, and that is being lost.

I wonder if anyone has thoughts of a gay coffee shop with a book corner? With so much vacant commercial space here in DC from the recession, maybe this could kick off? Or a non-profit LGBT community center, including such a casual spot.

Nancy, you have seen the exclusively lesbian bookstores here in Washington colose previously. What picked up the slack for that part of the community? I can not imagine the internet being a substitute for everything that we once had.

Having lived in the Washington DC, I am sad to hear
that Lambda Rising is closing. Like a previous
poster as stated, the bars, the Blade, the baths
and Lambda Rising were a cornerstone of the LBGT community. Never went to the baths but the other three were very much part of my life.

I'm not a good judge of what picked up the slack for the closing of Lammas, our women's bookstore. It was a very important place for me in the 1970's and into the 1980's. By the time it closed, however, my friendship circles, political activities, etc were pretty much in place.

The internet might work for finding a roommate, but obviously not for everything! Really I imagine some sympathetic sociologist must be studying this issue since it's similar in so many cities!

I am concerned about the trend as the bookstores were one of the very few non-bar based social ganthering centers and in a very real sense, cultural centers.

The gradual loss of these have left nothing to replace them. There is no one to sponsor the appearance of an LGBT author or artist, for instance. Leaving the bars as our major venue of social networkign and 'culture' enhances the problem of substance abouse/dependence in the community as well.

"Mission Accomplished"??? You were only in business for 35 years to get marriage rights??? That is the biggest crock I've ever heard? That was a very shallow 'mission' then.