Editor’s note: BGSQD, the pop-up queer bookstore on Orchard Street, announced yesterday that it’s extending its stay at the Strange Loop Gallery until the end of March. Recently, we stopped by the space to have a talk with the co-owners, who are trying to establish a permanent location on the Lower East Side. This story originally appeared in the February issue of The Lo-Down’s print magazine.
In today’s world of vanishing brick-and-mortar bookstores, it’s a pleasant surprise to see a new one open in the neighborhood, even if it’s only in a pop-up space for the moment. The Bureau of General Services-Queer Division (BGSQD) is a new bookstore, gallery and event space founded by partners Greg Newton and Donnie Jochum. The bookstore is unique by default — there actually aren’t any “gay bookstores” devoted solely to the LGBT community left in Manhattan — but it also has the feel of a special, forward-thinking space.
Newton says their goal was to rethink what it means to be a gay bookstore. They wanted their place to have a different connotation so they decided to go with the term “queer bookstore.”
“For us, the term queer is somehow more expansive. You could say, on the one hand, opening a queer book store is a narrowing of focus, but we see it more as a space that’s dedicated to queers and queer topics, but it’s open to allies,” Newton said. “There are people who have sex with members of the opposite sex who identify with the word ‘queer,’ so it doesn’t have rigid boundaries and at the same time it signals to people, if you don’t fit in with the gender ‘norms’ of society, or if you feel that those ‘norms’ ought to be challenged, this is the space for you.”
BGSQD’s mission is to “foster a community invested in the values of mindfulness, intellectual curiosity, justice, compassion and playfulness,” and their collection of zines, books, artwork, coy T-shirts and merchandise reflects just that.
Within its first two months in the temporary space at Strange Loop Gallery on Orchard Street, the store hosted two art openings, an exclusive reading by the estimable author and Harvard professor Edmund White, a magazine launch party featured in Next Magazine, various live music performances, a few poetry readings and a memoir-writing workshop.
Newton is a former writing professor at Parsons whose first home in New York City was at Ellen Stuart’s LaMaMa theater. (She charged him $5/week for a room above the theater on East Fourth Street.) He says the partners are determined to stay in the LES because of its diversity and the creative history here. Rent would have been cheaper in Brooklyn, but they really want to be centrally located — and in a neighborhood that has a mature nightlife and art scene. “We feel right at home here,” he said.
As far as the current narrative about small independent bookstores closing, Newton says he thinks people are starting to remember they didn’t move to New York to sit at home in front of their computers and TVs. “Human interaction is still a fun and important activity!” he says.
Visit BGQSD at Strange Loop Gallery (27 Orchard St.) Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. and Sundays noon-6 p.m. Newton and Jochum are currently seeking investors to help them establish a permanent home on the LES. If you are interested in supporting them, drop them a line at: email@example.com.