When Broad Vocabulary’s Bay View storefront was shuttered at the end of 2008, a group of volunteers banded together to ensure that Milwaukee’s only feminist bookstore wouldn’t stay closed for long. In the early days of 2009, A Broader Vocabulary Cooperative was created, determined the help the store rise from the proverbial ashes.
Through blog and Facebook postings, Stephanie Schneider, Annie Weidert and Hannah Wallisch (among others) put the word out— Broad Vocabulary would re-open, eventually, but help was needed. When I spoke with them last year, the wheels were just beginning to turn. At that point, they had incorporated as a co-op, but were up to their necks in red tape trying to purchase the former store’s inventory and realized that they wouldn’t be able to keep the original storefront. In spite of these obstacles, benefit shows and collaborations with other local organizations were in the works, and things were looking relatively good for the new co-op.
In the Spring of 2009, ABVC was able to purchase the entire inventory of books, which were kept in a storage space in the Third Ward until the co-op could secure a feasible retail space. In the meantime, their main goal was to keep Broad Vocabulary on the radar, which meant a lot of grassroots organizing and self-promotion. They hosted happy hours and feminist forums around the city to discuss literature, feminist theory and essentially to spread the word that Broad was alive and well.
Last October, the co-op began talks with People’s Books Co-op and eventually secured a modest space within the existing East Side bookstore. Though it’s not necessarily an ideal spot (Broad Vocabulary will be located in the basement of People’s), it’s definitely a step in the right direction.
“I think we all consider this to be a transition phase in the history of the co-op,” says board member Erin Stoekl, “but even if we stay here forever, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”
Despite the addition of many new volunteers and board members over the past year, the co-op’s resources are still a bit limited. Everyone has careers and responsibilities to attend to, and the last thing ABVC wants is to have anything slip through the cracks, or have the store become too large to manage effectively. In that sense, partnering with an existing book store provides a lot of support.
“It’s great that we’re being incubated by another co-op while we’re just getting started,” says Stephanie Schneider, board member and co-founder of ABVC.
I got a chance to sneak a peek while the new shop was being set-up. The space was humble, but full of potential and it felt good to know that a local resource for feminist/queer/radical lit. was making a comeback.
There is a catch, though- for now, the store will only be open for one sales day per month. In the meantime, BV is working on a new website and shifting focus to online sales, making the store’s inventory available to those who can’t make it to the monthly sales day, but who are looking for a local alternative to say, Amazon.com. ABVC will continue to host events and fundraisers to raise awareness for the store and to keep the feminist dialogue going. On April 21, they’re hosting San Francisco’s legendary radical queer/punk feminist spoken word troupe Sister Spit-check their site for more details.
Since the economy began it’s deep descent, Milwaukee lost a lot of beloved institutions, but the essence of what those places represented remained and the “stay local” mantra only grew stronger. Hopefully this will ring true for the next incarnation of Broad Vocabulary, but time will tell.
“A lot depends on support from the community,” says Stoekl, ” we will become as big as our community allows us to…this is just where we’re starting.”
Broad Vocabulary will be open for sales on Saturday, April 3 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. It is located in the lower level of People’s Books Co-operative, located at 2122 E. Locust St.