Portland's Iconic Feminist Bookstore Closing At End Of June

By April Baer (OPB)
Portland, Ore. June 6, 2018 1:30 p.m.
Out front of In Other Words, a feminist bookstore in Northeast Portland.

Out front of In Other Words, a feminist bookstore in Northeast Portland.

Kate Black / OPB

UPDATE (July 6, 4:40 p.m. PT) — Portland's iconic feminist bookstore and community space, In Other Words, has announced it's closing at the end of June. The space, originally located on Southeast Hawthorne, is now on Northeast Killingsworth. It's been in continuous operation for 25 years.

But the board says increased expenses and a lack of funds and volunteers have made operations impossible to continue.

"This isn’t sustainable, especially emotionally, for the people who come here and work to provide this space as a resource to Portland Feminist communities," the store said in its announcement.

Perhaps most famous for its role in the "Portlandia" TV series, In Other Words has struggled with the spotlight of the hit show and severed ties with the production in 2016.

In recent years, as its focus has shifted from indie bookstore to community space, it has welcomed groups as diverse as AA meetings to Rock Camp for Girls to anti-racist activists.

Eugene resident Carmen Schwisow is a former board member. She has vivid memories of walking into In Other Words for the first time, seeking books for her first women's studies class.

"I remember going to the bookstore and buying my first copy of ‘The Color Purple’ and ‘The Bluest Eye’" Schwisow said, "and picking up Ms Magazine for the first time, picking up Bitch Magazine for the first time."

Schwisow had attended a small, private high school and grew up in a conservative community. She says she was on the verge of understanding the world in a completely different way.


"The bookstore," she said, "was a huge part of that intellectual awakening.”

In Other Words has come close to shuttering before, but the message posted Monday suggests current leadership does not see the situation as salvageable.

"The current volunteers and board members 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," the statement continued. "Patriarchy, White Supremacy, Capitalism cannot be reformed and ever serve the people. Abolition is the goal."

Conversations are underway for how In Other Words might wind down operations. Board members and volunteers would not comment, but sources close to the board confirmed the end is imminent.

The activist group Critical Resistance, a 20-year veteran of social justice work focusing on mass incarceration, is interested in taking on the space to preserve its use a community center.

"We're definitely keeping things open-ended, in the spirit of In Other Words," said Anna Swanson, with Critical Resistance.

She said the vision is to prioritize accessibility, keeping the space free or low cost and open to all-ages, with an eye to anti-capitalist, anti-racist, intersectional work.

“It’s really important to us," Swanson said, "if we can to keep the space alive in that sense, but also to take the opportunity to transition it out of the sort of intractable problems the volunteers and board are talking about.”

Swanson added that while it's clearly a difficult moment, her group concurs with the sentiment of the statement posted by In Other Words' board, suggesting that transformation is critical to social change.

Schwisow said there's no question in her mind "the bookstore/community center is as relevant as its ever been. My hope is there's another iteration of it at some point."

Critical Resistance is on the hunt for community partners who might want to join in administrating the space. And In Other Words is asking for help with the physical and logistics work of closing down.

Organizers said they may have more to say later in the month.