The sad, unmourned death of a feminist, anti-capitalist bookstore

This story is just so sad and yet instructive to 21st-century society that it couldn’t be allowed to pass without comment. Courtesy of PJ Media, we learn of an innovative bookstore in Portland, Oregon which sought to break all the rules, defy the dictates of conventional society and strike a blow for the coming revolution. Started back in 1993, a “feminist bookstore” named In Other Words had sought to challenge the patriarchy, capitalism and the status quo by operating a business which would sell books below market cost, provide a welcoming environment for the unconventional and – wait for it – not pay any of their workers. Volunteers would change the existing paradigm by showing that everyone can give something back and run the evil capitalists out of the public square.


After a shockingly long run of a quarter century, the experiment has come to a close.

The Portland feminist bookstore In Other Words will close permanently on Saturday after 25 years of trying to overthrow capitalism, the patriarchy, and the general business-as-usual status quo.

Founded in 1993, the bookstore aimed to fight the “culture of oppression” by only employing volunteers, never paying workers, and selling books below market rate. The store also doubled as a community center, hosting events and such, but always struggled.

While there has been speculation on whether rent hikes or online book retailers contributed to the store’s demise, Johanna Brenner — the Portland State University professor who co-founded the bookstore — told PJ Media on Tuesday that this was not the case.

“The rent has gradually gone up, but the closing was not precipitated by a rent spike,” said Brenner. She instead suggested that one of the main issues was the hassle of managing a “staff” that never got paid nor received any benefits.

Incredibly, relying on a staff which consisted of people who received no pay or benefits and frequently encountered “issues” such as living in precarious economic situations didn’t work out well. The workers were faced with situations where they “experienced crises in housing or other aspects of their lives.” It sounds almost as if the workers were homeless or on the verge of being so and couldn’t be relied upon to show up and keep the store running.


But what did they blame the store’s eventual failure on? A number of things involving descriptions which I can’t translate with absolute certainty so I’ll leave it to you. (Emphasis added)

In a final announcement, current volunteers blamed everything from “white, cis feminism” to the “cycles of capitalism” for the store’s closure.

“We cannot continue because we know reform does not work,” they wrote.

“The current volunteers … stepped into and took over a space that was founded on white, cis feminism (read: white supremacy). It’s really difficult, actually, impossible, for us to disentangle from that foundational ideology.”

So a store that made no profits and didn’t pay their workers failed, but it’s the fault of… cis feminism. I realize that I’m kind of late to the party when it comes to the whole “cis” thing, but I was under the impression that the terminology referred to we old-school, stuck-in-science-class folks who thought that your gender was determined by your 23rd chromosomal pair. Is there some new breed of feminists today who feel a need to disparage the previous generation of feminists with a “cis” tag? I honestly can’t keep up with this anymore.

The fact is that In Other Words operated a charity for more than two decades, but not a particularly effective one. They sought to battle capitalism by enlisting true believers who would work for free and challenge conventional capitalism. But when you pay people nothing in what is ostensibly being billed as a “business” you get what you pay for. You are free to sell books, but you need to do it at a profit. Otherwise you are basically a public library, and they run on taxpayer dollars.


I’m afraid the cis-experiment was always doomed to fail. And that’s a shame because with a few more years effort I’m sure we could have gotten some unicorns in there.

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