The Austin Chronicle


By Shawn Badgley, April 30, 2004, Books

Susan Post is a proud, tough small-business owner. She's in control. She's funny. She's got perspective. Her employees love her. She's a community leader. And, so, it's particularly troubling to hear her say that she's considering renting a pony and a clown to draw business for Book Woman, the 918 W. 12th feminist fixture. With construction on Lamar discouraging consumer traffic, Post's is not the only business suffering, but it has endured one of the more fearsome crunches. "The trend is not good," Post says. "It's definitely a downward thing. And when your business is somewhat marginal, and it doesn't have very good margins to begin with, it tends to worry you a little bit more." While Post wouldn't comment as to whether Book Woman finds itself in an "emergency" situation, as author and über-customer Robin Bradford has termed it, Post did say that recent financial constraints have forced her to consider contingency plans, and that conceiving creative ways to draw business while at the same time saving money has taken on a certain urgency. While no layoffs are planned, Post might very well cut staff hours. Her outreach efforts – selling books at this weekend's third annual International Festival-Institute at Round Top Poetry Forum (see, for instance, and other such "obscure but important" events – will continue to increase. The storefront's lease expires in February, and Post says she's "looking around. ... This location is cursed." She envisions a sort of indie strip mall, in which struggling but successful businesses like hers could incubate and make shopping easier for Austin's independent-minded spenders. She dreams of a rent-free space. She's feverishly working up all-star benefits for the store, while mulling over the idea of soliciting pledges. The pony rides and clowns giving out balloons might be a worst-case scenario, but Post has already offered construction discounts, in one case placing a coupon ad in a church bulletin. "We got two very excited people in here with that," she laughs. It's a wistful kind of laugh, though, and one trebled with imminent concerns. It has been almost 30 years since Susan Post opened this store, and she's seen a lot of shit. She's seen other Austin small businesses shutter up, and she has watched from afar as feminist bookstore after feminist bookstore across the country has failed, leading to the ultimate dissolution of the Feminist Bookstore Network, a onetime hive for support and ideas and initiatives. In the wake of that dissolution, however, former Executive Director Carol Seajay has launched Books to Watch Out For, an electronic newsletter ( Post says it gives her some hope, that its dialogues and tips are helpful, that its "very important vitality" reinforces the notion that the feminist-bookstore community "is still relevant and doesn't have to be reinvented all over again." Still, countering a financial crisis is no easy business. "I'm stubborn," Post says. "But I would hate to be the last one to see reality."

Speaking of Book Woman, see this space next week for Marrit Ingman's review of Mother Knows, a collection of short stories about mothers and motherhood from the literary quarterly Glimmer Train. Robin Bradford and Dianne King Akers, contributors to that collection, will be at the store on Thursday, May 6, 7pm to read and sign.

Speaking of collections, the TCU Press publication of Texas Literary Outlaws: Six Writers in the Sixties and Beyond is upon us. Trek out to Texas State's Alkek Library to check out Mad Dog manuscripts and memorabilia, whiskey-soaked letters, cigarette-burned photographs, and more to celebrate Billy Lee Brammer, Gary Cartwright, Larry L. King, Bud Shrake, and the gang. See Litera listings, p.84, for the specs.

Speaking of the Alkek, the first of many gigs for occasional Chronicle contributor Jesse Sublett and his memoir, Never the Same Again, takes place right there, today, April 29, 4pm. We'll be excerpting the "Rock 'n' Roll Gothic" in next week's issue.

Speaking of never being the same again, the inestimable Simon Ortiz will host Empowerment Through Stories and Poetry, Saturday, May 1, 9am-4pm at the Hampton Branch Library. Call 892-6680 for more information on the free workshop.

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