By Collin Kelley

After nearly 20 years in business, Atlanta LGBT landmark Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse has closed and will not relocate. The iconic store in the heart of Midtown at 10th Street and Piedmont Avenue evolved into more than just a place to buy books;  it was a community center, a gathering place and a safe environment for young LGBT people coming to terms with their sexuality.

On Tuesday night, I was honored to read at “The Last Tango” event at the store alongside Karen Head, Hollis Gillespie, Mary Kay Andrews, Cleo Creech, Daniel Helminiak, Franklin Abbott and more. Atlanta City Councilman Alex Wan presented Outwrite owner Philip Rafshoon with a proclamation signed by the mayor and council (pictured above). It was a celebratory event, but with bookcases, tables, chairs and remaining stock at fire sale prices, it was obvious to everyone that the last chapter for Outwrite was being written that night.

I remember going to Outwrite when it opened in its first location – a tiny hole in the wall in Midtown Promenade – and buying Jeanette Winterson’s Written On the Body. Internet was in its infancy, there was no Amazon, so if you wanted an obscure title, you had to track it down. That’s part of the fun of bookstores. When Oxford Books closed its locations in the late 90s, I was gutted. I sat in the parking lot at the old Pharr Road store and wiped away a few tears. I did the same Tuesday night after The Last Tango.  Philip and Outwrite embraced me and my books, so I knew I always had a “home” in the store for my work. As a writer, losing a bookstore is a stab in the heart, but it’s also a great loss for the community.

With more people buying books online, at big box stores and downloading eBooks, brick and mortar bookstores are becoming an endangered species. I love my Kindle, but I also make it a habit to shop local. We live in a world where instant gratification takes too long, so when a bookstore doesn’t have a title you want but can order it, be patient. It won’t kill you to wait a few more days. Your  patience and dollars will keep bookstores – and other local businesses – around for years to come. Choose local, shop local.

Philip sent out this letter to the community this morning:

Dear Outwrite Community,

We regret to inform you that effective January 26, 2012, Outwrite Bookstore and Coffeehouse is closed for business. For over 18 years, we have been privileged to serve Atlanta residents and welcome visitors from across America and around the world. We sincerely thank you for your patronage.

As an independent bookstore and coffeehouse focused on the LGBT community, Outwrite has served as a symbol of strength and diversity in this city; and we have helped create a vibrant, pedestrian environment in Midtown. Our community has made an incredible amount of progress in the past 18 years and we are proud to have been part of that progress.

Since we shared our financial struggles with you nine months ago, we have been very encouraged by the strong show of support. We have listened to your insights and your desire for us to stay in business. So many of you have generously stepped up, shared your ideas and volunteered your time in an effort to transform Outwrite to meet the changing needs of our customers and our community.

Unfortunately, we have run out of time and money to make that transformation. We have examined and exhausted all possibilities for continuing this company given our financial situation.

All of us at Outwrite believe in the strength of our community and you will continue to see us working to strengthen and enrich it. While it is a challenging economy and the bookselling industry is rapidly evolving, there is still a need for neighborhoods with a strong LGBT presence and independent bookstores serving communities throughout the world.

Thanks to all of you who made Outwrite the special place it has been over the past 18 years. Thank you to all who came in on a regular basis, showing your commitment to supporting independent, local businesses. And thank you to all of the authors, poets, artists, musicians, volunteers, and activists, who have entertained, educated and energized us: your contributions have highlighted the strength, beauty, vitality, and creativity of our lives and changed the face of Atlanta. Thank you for making our community a better place.

Philip Rafshoon
& the Outwrite Staff and Family

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.