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Manhattan's Only LGBT Bookstore Fighting for Permanent LES Space

By Serena Solomon | December 5, 2012 8:13am

LOWER EAST SIDE — Manhattan's only bookstore dedicated to LGBT literature is pushing to turn its pop-up shop into a permanent location.

The Bureau of General Services Queer Division, or BGSQD, has been operating out of 27 Orchard St. since Nov. 15, creating a community through art and literature events aimed at the gay community.

But with the temporary store set to shut down next month, its owners are hoping a fundraising campaign will give the bookstore the initial boost it needs to make the Lower East Side its longtime home.

"This is a space that is open for everyone," said BGSQD co-owner Greg Newton, 42. "But it is a space dedicated to supporting queers and exploring issues of gender and sexuality."

BGSQD is working with local crowd-funding site Lucky Ant to raise $15,000 — the equivalent of three months rent for the store — by Dec. 20, while offering donors a range of gifts and perks for their generosity. 

Newton, along with his partner in "business, life and love" Donnie Jochum, dreamed up the idea for the bookstore upon realizing 18 months ago that the borough's only shops serving the gay community had closed, including the Oscar Wilde Bookshop in 2009 and A Different Light in 2001.

Bent Pages on Staten Island, which sells used and out-of-print gay literature, is the only other store in New York City, the owners noted.

Newton and Jochum's gallery-like space on Orchard Street is stocked with titles such as "Bi-Curious George," a parody of the classic children's series, and Sarah Schulman's "Israel, Palestine and the International Queer," about how the LGBT community works together from the two sides.

"You stumble across things, you talk to people in the store," Newton said of the experience at of shopping at BGSQD. "You find things that might not be introduced to you by the algorithms of Amazon."

The store's events calendar of poetry and book readings, live music and gallery nights is another important aspect of the business.

"The social spaces for a lot of LBGT people happen to be bars, especially for men," said Newton, "but they are often loud, not conducive to conversation… they serve a different purpose."

While Newton was researching the plight of independent bookstores in the city, he found that creating a community space with events was crucial to success in selling books. He pointed to Word in Greenpoint and Greenlight in Fort Greene as community bookstores BGSQD is looking at as a model.

While Newton has yet to find a new and permanent location for BGSQD, staying on the Lower East Side is important to him because of its rebellious and bohemian roots.

Avoiding the male-dominated Chelsea and Hell's Kitchen neighborhoods is also intentional, with Newton striving to reach anyone who identifies as LGBT — as well as all those who don't.

"Those are very gay, male spaces," he said, "and we want this to be for all queers."