Local feminist bookstore People Called Women seeks supportWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | email@example.com
Toledo feminist bookstore People Called Women has managed to stay open for 18 years, even as more than 100 similar shops across North America have closed.
Now Ohio’s last feminist bookstore is struggling and asking for the community’s support.
“It’s always been hanging on by a thread; that’s always been true of feminist bookstores and many independent bookstores,” said owner Gina Mercurio, who moved back to her native Toledo to open the store in 1993. “I’m fine being poor; I can deal with that to a point, but I’ve hit that point now.”
On July 5, Mercurio posted a note to the business’s Facebook page: “Dear friends of PCW, These are difficult times for independent bookstores, particularly feminist bookstores. People Called Women is no exception. We are writing to let you know that PCW is at a critical juncture. We are in the process of determining if we have enough support to keep PCW open. Do people in our community want a feminist bookstore and can we sustain it? If your answer to that is yes, there are several ways you can show your support.”
Through July 16, Mercurio is hosting a Staying in Business Sale, offering 20 percent off all new books and a free used book with every purchase.
People can also support the shop’s monthly book drive by giving a tax-deductible donation toward a gift certificate for a local nonprofit. July donations are being collected for the Cocoon Shelter in Bowling Green, a shelter for battered women and their children.
When Mercurio opened People Called Women, there were 132 feminist bookstores in the U.S. and Canada, including in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati; today there are fewer than 20 and no others in Ohio.
“PCW has survived in Toledo for a variety of reasons — most of them relating to you,” Mercurio wrote in the Facebook note. “Some of you shop at PCW because you want to support feminist space. Others because you like small, locally-owned businesses. Some because you live by the adage, If you want to know what you value, look at where you spend your money. Together, you have sustained a bookstore, a meeting space, a gathering place, and for some, a lifeline.”
Rebecca Facey is among those who would be upset if the bookstore closed.
The co-founder and co-director of Independent Advocates, a local nonprofit that advocates in court for domestic violence victims, has been going to the shop since she was 15.
“As a young feminist in Toledo, it was a crucial spot that I knew existed in my community and to be able to go there and feel like there are a lot of other people in this community and in the world that share my feelings, that was really important for me,” Facey said.
Among the groups that regularly meet at People Called Women are Take Back the Night, a group dedicated to ending violence against women; Lavender Triangle Toledo, a social group for lesbians; and the local chapter of National Organization for Women, or NOW.
The shop also regularly hosts live music, book signings, poetry readings, book groups and other events.
Facey recalled coming to the shop in 2005 on a weekend in which three women were murdered in domestic violence-related incidents.
“I remember just showing up at the bookstore because I didn’t know where else to go,” Facey said. “I was just so upset, and all these other people were there, including one of the young women’s mothers.”
Out of that gathering came strong support for Shynerra’s Law, legislation later passed allowing juvenile courts to issue protection orders for minors in dating relationships. The bill was named after 17-year-old Shynerra Grant, who was shot and killed by a former boyfriend weeks after graduating from Start High School.
“It was so wonderful just to have a place to show up immediately following the death,” Facey said. “We were able to get support and to show support to her family and have something come out of it and make sure she didn’t die in vain. It was a very powerful experience. [The bookstore] has been part of some amazing progress in this community.”
About a year ago, People Called Women moved from its original location at Cricket West to 6060 Renaissance Place, near the intersection of North Holland-Sylvania Road and West Sylvania Avenue.
“Some but not all customers have followed,” Mercurio said. “We’ve gotten some new people, but a lot of people are still figuring out that I moved.”
It’s not only women who frequent the store.
“Our feminist book group has a couple of men in it that come every month and there’s actually a couple of men who are among my best customers,” Mercurio said.
Mercurio hopes everyone feels comfortable in the store.
“This is a come-as-you-are type of place,” Mercurio said. “I hope people go away excited about seeing books they didn’t know existed and feeling like there’s a public space where they can go and feel comfortable being themselves.”
Although Mercurio is the store’s only employee, she credits a dozen dedicated volunteers for keeping the store running as long as it has.
Mercurio plans to reassess in the fall whether the store can stay open.
“We will see how things go, how our sale goes, how the book tables at community events we already have planned go,” Mercurio said. “We’ll assess it again in October and we’ll see.”
Facey hopes the community can rally enough support to keep the bookstore from closing.
“It’s the last feminist bookstore in Ohio and we can’t lose it. It would just be such a tragedy,” Facey said. “Gina has been a hero to so many women. Providing a space for women to meet and feel safe is so important. I don’t know what I’ll do if it’s gone.”
People Called Women offers new, used and out-of-print books mainly by female authors as well as buttons, bumper stickers, T-shirts, pottery, handmade jewelry, notecards and other gift items. Store hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
For more information, visit www.peoplecalledwomen.com.