I’m at SXSW, wrapping up tonight. As a musician, I’m happy; SXSW has been very good to our band. As someone with an agenda about public space, however, I can’t stand most of it: corporate banners, cheap plastic give-aways, screamingly loud outdoor music–as if a marketing director was anxious to make everything feel like a “party.”
This morning I had a few hours off, and I wanted to get far away, fast. And when that’s what you want, thankfully, Austin provides.
I chose to visit BookWoman, a book store that was open early and on the outskirts. BookWoman was in one of the strip malls that line Austin, and it was tucked between a gaming store and another storefront that dealt with “surfing, hookah, and jewelry.”
Inside BookWoman, I met Susan Post, who, it turns out, is fighting a battle that we know well here at the Uni Project. Feminism is good, but I’m talking about something else: the battle to create and carve out meaningful space for people to gather. Susan is, among many things, a placemaker.
Her challenge, in many ways, is about real estate. As downtown rents rise, she must move her store farther out. And to keep her business thriving, she must bring her tribe along with her. As we’ve said so many times in this space, retailers like Susan, even more than most librarians I think, are driven to build community around their location. They must create a place where people want to gather around ideas, or things fall apart, fast.
As a father, I appreciated Susan’s young adult section for girls and her children’s section tucked right near the register. There was also a crowded bulletin board and things on display that you would simply never find in a Barnes and Noble. The store is a gem. I left with a T-shirt for my daughter, some Pride Tube Socks for my band, and a renewed sense that we’re making a big mistake by relinquishing downtown to chains and corporatized festivals/events.
Susan sent me on my way with directions to Monkey Wrench, an anarchist bookstore just down the street. Sadly, the anarchists were not up as early as the feminists, and the store was closed. Next tour.
So for now, thank you Susan taking the time with me today, and for breathing life into that strip mall. You made my morning. I will be back soon, with my daughter.