With so many feminist bookstores shutting their doors, it might seem unlikely that a new one would suddenly open them. But that’s exactly what happened when Troll Hole set up shop this April in Brooklyn.
Once a commonality within the movement, feminist bookstores are now rarities. The first, Minneapolis’ Amazon Bookstore, opened on the porch of a commune in 1970. After the 1960s, interest in feminist bookstores was at what may have been an all-time high; by 1997, there were 175 open for business. But as of 2014, only 13 were left standing in the US and Canada.
Troll Hole, a feminist-slash-adult bookstore founded by Monica Yi, Hayley Blatte and Justin Shock, shares at least several qualities with Amazon. It calls a humble location home, in this case a tiny area inside a laundromat. The owners are willing to be at least temporarily involved in a project that’s largely unprofitable, at least right now. Most obviously, it follows in a long line of bookstores before it which derive their names from references to female genitalia or the notions of gender and womanhood. Most importantly, it’s more than a place to just get books.
Troll Hole carries a wide variety of items that are carefully curated and far from the mainstream. When I visited, they were selling glow-in-the-dark lube alongside $pread, Edgewise: A Picture of Cookie Mueller, Assata, The Kissing Girls Coloring Book and Cosmic Bear glow-in-the-dark lubricant. “We like to think of ourselves as a fun mixed bag,” the founders told me. “[The items] reflect our personalities and interests. We look at a lot of things together, but some of our individual differences have proven to be a strength in widening our audience. So, that said, we have some kinky stuff, some artsy stuff, some really personal stuff, some academic stuff, some fun stuff, some nostalgic stuff, and some really practical stuff.”
But what Troll Hole offers is also a community space oriented around activism, healing and inclusivity. Six days a week, the founders operate both a bookstore and a gathering space. Troll Holl recently held “a consciousness raising /collective healing night” in response to the deaths of Philando Castile, Deeniquia Dodds and Alton Sterling. Right now, they are organizing community workshops for the fall with Christina Tesoro and Corrine Werder. As a public service, they offer free feminine hygiene products. They encourage women of color and other local creators to submit their work to them.
“Laundromats can often serve as unintentional community gathering spaces,” the founders said. “We hope to add to that tradition.”
Their clients have run the gamut. “We get aspiring male artists coming in to tell us about feminism, or how they feel offended” the trio told me. “We get parents of college kids who just moved to the area. We get last-minute gift shoppers who expect to purchase a big black dildo for gags. Some of the best interactions we’ve had are when little kids are allowed into the shop while their parents are doing laundry. Other really neat interactions are when longtime residents who are not familiar with feminism or queer [issues] come into the shop. Sometimes people will come in and just start sharing stories about their life.”
The idea to open Troll Hole emerged as an answer to some unanswerable questions. “Why is it so hard to get visibility if you’re an artist or writer?” the founders want to know. “Why is it even harder if you’re a woman of color? Why is there such little representation from artists that have lived in Bushwick? Why are queer spaces, feminist spaces and art spaces often not accessible or not inviting within the neighborhoods they exist?”
By creating a space centered around filling these voids, Troll Hole is providing something invaluable even in the face of great resistance. “A girl in high school once came in randomly and said, ‘Wow. I feel really safe and good about this place,'” the founders said. “That’s probably the best response we’ve gotten.”