Tucked in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Bluestockings is a volunteer-powered independent bookstore, fair-trade café, and activist center that originally specialized in feminist literature, but currently carries a diverse range of reading material including but not limited to: sexuality, queer studies, class and labor, anarchism, and activist strategies.
Kathryn Welsh founded Bluestockings Women’s Bookstore in 1999, naming the store after the mid-18th century Blue Stockings Society, a political group focused on promoting female literacy. After the bookstore experienced financial hardship in 2002, Welsh decided to sell the bookstore, and Brooke Lehman purchased it in 2003, saving it from closure. Lehman renovated the space and broadened Bluestockings’ mission of inclusivity to also focus on radical politics and activism, and the bookstore reopened as a collectively owned space.
Nearly two decades after opening, Bluestockings is operating through the work of many dedicated volunteers and select staffers and still uses a break-even financial model, putting a focus on education and activism instead of profit. Besides books, it also sells alternative menstrual products, zines, and a variety of activism-focused and zany merch.
The store also hosts donation-based events almost nightly, such as readings, support groups, and self-defense classes, aside from acting as a site to obtain free condoms, lube, and dental dams. The café likely has the cheapest coffee in the neighborhood (only one dollar!) and a variety of vegan baked goods. As a community space, Bluestockings maintains a safer-space policy that attempts to keep the bookstore accessible across different intersections of identity, asking its patrons to be respectful of others’ physical and emotional boundaries, recognize their own privilege, and take responsibility for their actions.