Out Of The Closet

outoftheclosetlogo.JPGThere’s a new edition to the Tower District, the independent bookstore Out Of The Closet Book & Gift Emporium. Tucked at the corner of Olive and Farris, between Palm & Olive, the store specializes in Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Trans publications. I sat down with Charlotte Jenks, managing partner of the store, and asked what made her decide to open her own business.
“Well, I closed Central California Pride Network. We just could not get enough grant money to keep it open. So I looked around to try to figure out what I wanted to do. I realized I was really burned out from being a social worker. The last five years working for our community we had very little money and not much support, not from our community, but from the general domestic violence community.”
Faced with the decision of what to do with her free time, Charlotte turned her attention to the things she herself enjoyed.
“Pam and I are both avid readers, and it’s really awful when you go to places like Borders or Barnes and Noble and they have the same old books every time. So we said to each other ‘Would you like to do that?’ and we decided we did, just that quick.”

She joined forces with Bambi Heckmann, Gail Carpenter and her brother, Joe Jenks. She chose the current location because it was in close proximity to her home, and the Tower District is where they wanted to do business. While the store is a little down the road from the main intersection of Wishon and Olive, it made much more financial sense for a business just starting out. “If you get into Tower proper, so to speak, it’s really cost prohibitive. We’d have to have paid 2 or 3 times what we pay here.”
A large pride flag flies in front of the shop, marking it’s location. A welcome sign greets you as you step through the brightly painted purple door and into the space. Immediately it’s clear you’ve come to much more than a bookstore. Out Of The Closet offers a wide variety of books, including fiction (mystery, erotica, romance & general), non-fiction and academic books, travel guides, magazines & periodicals. They don’t stop at books however, and carry a large selection of merchandise. You’ll find jewelry (Celtic/Pagan/Christian), candles, incense, essential oils, custom made cards, pride supplies and gifts, stickers and flags. They also stock clothing items such as a selection of sarongs. There are large tapestries hanging on the walls which are for sale, and their stock of magazines include the Advocate, Out and bear related publications, as well as calendars. There’s a bulletin board and table space to post flyers and notices. While they don’t currently stock CD’s or DVD’s, they plan to do so in the future.
Speaking with Charlotte, it’s immediately clear she knows the workings of the book business, as well as how hard it is to compete with the big guns like Barnes & Noble.
“Books are preprinted with pricing and you’re not allowed to move above that. Barnes & Noble and other big chains though, can afford to cut the price sometimes even as much as half of the cover price and still make a profit. They not only get their standard discount from the wholesalers, but they’re able to get large volume discounts. They might end up paying as little as 10 percent of the cover price, where we’re generally paying something like 60 percent.”
While that may seem like a pretty stiff challenge for an independent book store, Charlotte is quick to point out that price should not be the only consideration when searching for titles to read.
“People that come into the store, they’re probably like me when I go into a small store. They know they’re going to pay more, but they’re also going to get personal service. The people that come in here on a regular basis, I know who they are. I put their authors aside without them having to tell me.”
Charlotte tells me it’s important to remember that the stock a store has is different from any other store.
“We have titles the big stores don’t have. If you to Barnes & Noble you’ll find maybe the top ten, especially if you’re talking non-fiction. They don’t have the basics. A lot of us when we come out are reading books written fifteen years ago because nothing else has taken it’s place.”
Out Of The Closet is also reaching out to the community to offer the store’s space for group gatherings. “We allow several groups to meet here after hours because there isn’t anywhere else for them to get together. Pride parade meets here, the Golden State Bears have had their game night here where they play cards and watch movies, and Out Loud, a young group just starting to develop, meets here as well.
Currently Out Of The Closet hosts both a poetry reading and a book discussion group once a month. The first poetry reading was successful, with people reading either their own poetry or published works. The next one is scheduled for February 28th at 6:30pm. The book discussion scheduled for February 22nd at 6:30pm, which focuses on the book “Brokeback Mountain”, may have to be postponed due to the current inability to get copies of the book from the publisher. Call the store for details.
Out Of The Closet is located at 35 E. Olive Avenue in the Tower. You can check out the store’s website at www.outbookstore.com , or call at 559-233-5041. Current hours of operation are Tue-Thu 10am-6pm, Fri 10am-8pm, Sat-Sun 11am-5pm. The store is closed on Mondays and holidays. Gay Fresno is also happy to welcome the store as a contributor to the site. They’ll begin posting book reviews once a month on a regular basis, starting sometime this month.

For the LGBT community, especially in a place such as Fresno, it’s not that common to have an LGBT store available to us. I urge those in the community and beyond to check out the store and support this welcome addition to our area.


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