It’s hard to say if we adopted Woody or if Woody adopted us. He was a cat with his own home but he showed up at Women in Print every morning when we’d open, screaming to be let in even as he ran through the door. He ate there, slept there, had his ears scratched there and when his actual owner moved away, he decided to stay there.
Although slightly less independent than Woody, Max could have made himself comfortable at any number of the shops along 4th Ave. But he too chose Women in Print to rest his paws.
That’s the kind of place it is. You think you’re just going to drop by for a visit but you end up sitting with a book in the corner for hours or laughing with one of the staff until long after your bus transfer has run out. I myself popped in to see about a part-time job one day and ended up working there for years.
I learned a lot during my time there.
I learned how to straighten books like nobody’s business. I still catch myself absentmindedly doing it at other bookstores and friends’ houses, pulling all the books to the very front of the shelves so the spines form a flat, united surface. Considering that I have been known to leave dirty dishes piled in the sink for weeks at a time, this is really quite impressive.
I learned that sometimes the mere existence of something is important. There is a certain smile people often have when leaving Women in Print that I’ve never encountered at any other place of employ. It’s a sort of happy, grateful grin, a look of appreciation that I doubt most retailers usually get tossed their way. But it’s a regular occurrence at Women in Print-a place that, through its simple existence, is a reminder that women’s voices matter.
I learned a lot about survival. That little store should have closed down a million times over the years. But Louise and Carol, the store’s owners, have done whatever they’ve had to do to keep it open. Both women are also cancer survivors and two of the kindest people I know.
Maybe it’s all connected; I really couldn’t say. Personally, if I ever had a life-threatening illness I would immediately use it as an excuse to lie around all day eating chips. I wouldn’t muck about with things like fighting to keep a small business afloat and I certainly wouldn’t be so damn nice about it all. No, I would immediately put on track pants and begin drinking heavily, welcoming only visitors who had come over to feel sorry for me or bring more chips.
I learned things I doubt I could have had there not been so many great books at my fingertips. When I was confused about transgender issues, there was no queer godmother to turn to, no trans history class at my university, no 1-800-555-KWIR hotline to dial for answers; but there was a section of books at the store for me to pore over and ponder. For this alone I am ever grateful.
I learned that community is not an abstract notion. Community is about sweeping the sidewalk each morning, writing a newsletter, helping someone find information they need and just plain showing up every day, even when you don’t feel like it.
Community is just as much about knowing you are being counted on as it is expecting that you can count on other people.
And I learned what it feels like to be valued and appreciated for my contributions.
No, there’s not a lot of money flying around Women in Print-anyone who ever started working there for the paycheque quite quickly found another job-but I was always made to feel like it mattered that I was there and that my choice to spend my time there was appreciated. How many people can truly say that about their jobs?
Recently, I opened an email from Women in Print that started “Dear Friends”. For some reason, this is rarely a greeting to be followed by good news. This greeting was no exception.
“It is with mixed feelings we announce that Women in Print will close on September 11th.”
When Women in Print opened in 1993 they were one of about nine women’s bookstores in BC. When I worked there, they were the last. Now they too are closing.
This is a huge loss not only for those of us who love this little store but also for the many women who will never get to fall in love with it.
There is much to be discussed about the dangerous dismissal of the women’s movement as no longer relevant, the dwindling importance being placed on literary history and the disturbing disappearance of independent businesses and all that they represent for our communities.
However, these discussions will have to wait. Today I just want to express my gratitude for all I’ve learned from Women in Print and my appreciation for the wonderful women who built and sustained it for so many years.
I would not be the person I am had they not adopted me.