Book Woman Fights Back
If "things don't return to the normal pattern by the end of the year, then I think we would have to re-evaluate," says Book Woman's Susan Post. "But we're not going to take out a loan, we're going to have a benefit! It's like we're in the hospital and we have some hospital bills, and our friends are going to help us pay them." She's talking about Sunday's Independents Jam, about which you can find out more here.
If you add Sixth + Lamar + six, you'd get something in the neighborhood of 12th + Lamar, if my calculations are correct. It's in that neighborhood -- just six blocks from the Schlosser Development Project and its planned tenants Borders Books & Music and potentially Best Buy -- where you'd find Book Woman. It's at Book Woman where you might find founder Susan Post and her employee Kristen Gerhard on a Friday afternoon discussing the financial future of the Austin establishment when not discussing a broken air conditioner.
"Two days ago I was sitting back here eating and I heard lot of, like, drip-drip-dripping," Gerhard says. She goes on to recall a recently repaired toilet, but Post is stuck on the drip. "You should have told me," she replies sternly. It's a comment quietly reflecting their mentor-protégée relationship. Post started Book Woman 27 years ago; this is its fourth storefront incarnation, and she has "weathered many storms." Gerhard has worked at Book Woman for almost two years, and the store itself is older than she is.
"I have a tremendous respect for Susan's knowledge, and her ability to create and re-create year after year," Gerhard explains. "I don't have the history inside my head, so I just try and offer what I can. It comes down to how I want to help the store right now, what I can do right now to assure that it's the way it is a few years from now."
For right now, that means Sunday's Independents Jam at Club DeVille. Gerhard conceived the idea while watching the store -- and Post -- struggle during an especially slow summer. Post won't give any details as to how precarious the store's situation is, but she did say that she has studied the application process for nonprofit status (à la Boston's New Words Bookstore), and that if "things don't return to the normal pattern by the end of the year, then I think we would have to ..." Her voice trails off. She feels "like shit" today, and coughs while cleaning her glasses. "Re-evaluate. But we're not going to take out a loan; we're going to have a benefit! It's like we're in the hospital and we have some hospital bills, and our friends are going to help us pay them." While Post speaks mostly metaphorically when discussing Book Woman's plight -- the store is "holding onto the roof of the house during a hurricane" -- she partially blames the trickle-down effects of Sept. 11, the fluctuating economy, the spike in unemployment, rising rents, and the fact that her core clientele -- women -- are traditionally of lower income for comparable work. For her part, Gerhard uses one word to describe the past few months and the impetus for the Independents Jam: "panic."
The event's motto is "Borrow, give, receive." And Book Woman's long history of hosting poets, musicians, and performance troupes made Gerhard's job "so easy" when she started working the phones. Scheduled for the event, on the spoken word side, are Ana Sisnett, K. Bradford, Jackie Cuevas, Rajasvini Bhansali, and Poet on Watch. On the music side: Lourdes Pérez, Nancy Scott, the Swamp Girls, Dragon Gate, Lewinsky, and a special appearance by Kings 'n' Things. There'll also be food, comedy, and a silent auction. In the meantime, City Council has received more than 400 e-mails regarding Book Woman and the Sixth + Lamar development.
"All of a sudden, I was just like, 'I'm doing a benefit,' for different reasons. A) We needed some help financially, and B) I just wanted to bring an awareness, 'cause I think that there's a lot of people in the community and in Texas and all over the country who care about stores like this, and don't want to see them close," she says. "And they are all over the country. And I think people don't realize that if they don't make a small effort to support these places in Austin that they are going to close."
Book Woman's Independents Jam takes place Sunday, Oct. 6, 7pm, at Club DeVille. Suggested donation is $10.