A sluggish economy, a rapidly changing book industry and high rent in the heart of Midtown are key factors forcing Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse to move from its home at the corner of 10th Street and Piedmont Avenue.
When the move will take place is not yet known, said owner Philip Rafshoon. The store’s lease expires in a couple of months, he said, and a “For Lease” sign now hangs from the side of the store’s exterior along 10th Street.
But Rafshoon believes there is still a need for LGBT bookstores in Atlanta — although his store also sells many mainstream books as well as novelty gifts, food and coffee.
Relocating from the corner of “gay and gay” may not be ideal, but Rafshoon remains optimistic and said the community’s response to the news of the store moving has been tremendous as the search for a new location continues.
“We’re still scouting for a new spot,” Rafshoon said Nov. 21, one week after he announced publicly the store was moving from its home for the past 15 years.
Rafshoon has looked at several locations in Midtown as well as “all over the city” and plans to keep the store intown, he said. People are also responding well to the sales taking place at the store, which helps raise money needed for the move, he added.
“People have been very supportive asking how they can help. We’re asking them to save their money and save the store,” he said, promising more information soon.
An 18th anniversary party is set for Saturday, Dec. 3, from 7 p.m. to midnight at the bookstore.
Rafshoon has been public about the store’s financial woes including being behind on rent. In May he sent out a letter to the community seeking financial support and held a fundraiser in August.
Plans are to remain at 10th and Piedmont through the holiday season “unless we find a new space,” Rafshoon said.
“We’ve been working since May on trying to look at different plans to go forward and make it a venture to last into future,” Rafshoon said of the iconic LGBT bookstore.
“Every plan we’ve looked at says we’ve got to raise revenue significantly, up to doubling it, and cut expenses. We’ve been pretty good at strategizing different things that could work,” he said.
Rafshoon said the store has “cut to the bone” to try to save money.
“The rent needs to go down to maybe half of what it is, while at the same time the lease is over in a few months. The fact is Outwrite doesn’t own the building. It’s impossible to ask the landlord to reduce rent by half at this desirable location,” he added.
Rafshoon declined to disclose how much rent Outwrite pays. He did say that the store was a “couple of months” behind on rent.
“Any model we look at states we have to find a different location. And that’s tough because we love this location and the community loves this location,” he added. “I’m ready to find a new space.”
‘More than just a location’
Rev. Antonio Jones, who is gay, has been visiting Outwrite since 1997, shortly after it relocated from the Midtown Promenade shopping center.
“[Outwrite] provides a service to our community that cannot be duplicated by the Amazons or the Barnes and Nobles,” Jones said while shopping at Outwrite Nov. 20. “It will certainly be missed and its absence will take away from the atmosphere and environment. This is the perfect, appropriate location. It will definitely be a loss to the gayborhood.”
Leah Ruth, a film student at Georgia State University, was watching videos on her MacBook at the store the same night.
“I’m mad,” she said of the store relocating. “It’s always been here. I would say to my friend let’s go to Caribou and she would say let’s go to Outwrite because it’s local, not many people know it’s a coffee shop, it’s not corporate. To me, the store is successful because it attracts all these celebrities and authors.”
Losing an LGBT landmark is a “tragedy” as well, she added.
“What’s frightening is they are going to go someplace and it’s not going to be the right location,” she said. “This is the perfect spot. It’s a tragedy it’s happening in Midtown and Atlanta.”
But DeVellus Glover is optimistic. He has been a regular customer at Outwrite since it was located in Midtown Promenade and believes loyal customers will follow the store.
“I want to believe Outwrite is more than just a location,” he said.
For Ricardo Corporan, who works part-time on the weekends at Outwrite, the news of the store closing at 10th and Piedmont was a bit shocking.
“I was very surprised and a little saddened,” he said. “But we are all trying to keep optimistic and hope we find another place soon.”
Corporan, who works full-time as a paralegal, said he wanted to keep working at Outwrite because of his love for the place. “This was always a place to stop for me. It’s sad to move from this corner,” he said.
Community support needed
Rafshoon is not shy when asking people to visit the store and buy, buy, buy.
“We need people to shop and support us,” he said. When Outwrite located to its current location 15 years ago, the neighborhood was rundown and ugly, he said. Since Outwrite moved in, the intersection has been redeveloped with a variety of shops and restaurants.
“We’ve been in this location 15 years and helped this neighborhood grow. With any luck we will find another location and help that neighborhood, that corner, that location grow and thrive,” Rafshoon said.
Top photo: Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse announced Nov. 14 that it would close soon at its location at 10th and Piedmont. (by Dyana Bagby)