Feminist bookstore reopens in North Portland

In Other Words, a nonprofit feminist bookstore, opened the doors to its new location at 8 N.E. Killingsworth St. on Feb. 1. The bookseller managed to hold onto its Hawthorne space for 13 years, but the increasing cost of rent eventually sent the nonprofit packing.

PSU Professor Johanna Brenner described Hawthorne as a haven for progressive activists and counterculture back in 1993, when the bookstore first opened up in the neighborhood. As a co-founder of In Other Words, Brenner hoped to make the bookstore a place where women could engage in activism and continued study of women’s issues. Gradually she saw the street shift from an activist community to a more commercial environment as the influx of businesses drove rent prices upward.

“Although it was wonderful to be so visible in a consumerist environment, paying a large amount of rent doesn’t serve the community,” said the store’s manager, Sue Burns. She believes the new Killingsworth location will better serve the community by making partnerships with nearby businesses.

In Other Words has already partnered with neighboring Talking Drum Bookstore to sponsor a reading and activist group focused on race and gender. Burns hopes to collaborate in the future with the nearby Women’s Resource Center at Portland Community College, the Albina branch of the Multnomah Country Library and Bread and Roses Center, a local feminist, socialist cooperative.

Even the new building itself has historic ties to the local community. Owned by the Albina Women’s League, a nonprofit whose mission was to serve African-American youth, the building has been empty for over a decade since funding for art classes and other activities ran out. Both groups felt that although they served different communities, their missions and core values were the same.

Sections of the building on Killingsworth are still available for rent and Brenner hopes to see a compatible business move in. “It would be nice to see a coffee shop,” she said. Aside from a lack of nearby coffee, Burns had no reservations about the store’s new neighborhood. “There is no second guessing going on. I feel confident that this is the future of In Other Words,” she said.

In addition to the lower rate of rent, the new location offers nearly twice the floor space of the old Hawthorne store. Brenner and Burns hope to use the extra space for lectures, community readings and other non-book-related events. They also hope to pick up where the Albina Women’s League left off by providing a safe haven for children of the area.

Anticipating the need to move, Burns and her staff of mostly volunteers polled their customers two summers ago. The polling was conducted via e-mail, mail and word of mouth and lasted three months. What they discovered was that 48 percent of In Other Words customers lived North or Northeast Portland, while another 45 percent lived in Southeast. Although the numbers were evenly split, it was enough to convince the bookstore’s board that a substantial clientele awaited them in Northeast Portland.

Unlike most retailers, In Other Words does not rely on luring in customers from the streets. Burns calls the nonprofit a destination store. “The foot traffic didn’t help us,” she said of the former Hawthorne locale. “We found that people were driving to Hawthorne to come into the store and complaining about the parking.”

The move from Hawthorne to Killingsworth has been almost entirely volunteer-driven and Burns praised workers for their dedication and stamina.

“The amount of hours and work blew me away. In two hours 40 volunteers packed up every book in the store,” she said. Burns also acknowledged that many volunteers were PSU students. Several students came from classes that required them to volunteer at the bookstore for class credit. “I want to give a big thank-you to PSU students and professors for that,” Burns said.

Although the new location is open for business, it continues to be renovated by volunteers and Burns anticipates that the work will continue through the rest of the month. Volunteers are always welcome, and those interested in volunteering at In Other Words can send an e-mail to [email protected].