overview

In 1973, Craig Rodwell moved his Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop, the first gay and lesbian bookstore in America, from its original home on Mercer Street to a prominent location on Christopher Street, near the center of New York City’s gay life.

The shop occupied this site for over 35 years.

Header Photo

Credit: Amanda Davis/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2017.

On the Map

Photo Above

Tennessee Williams, Craig Rodwell, and staff in front of the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop, 1976. Photo by Barbara Gluck. Courtesy of the Craig Rodwell Papers, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library.

History

Craig Rodwell opened the first Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop in 1967 in a small storefront on Mercer Street near Waverly Place. In 1973, he decided to move the store to a location closer to the heart of gay life in New York. In April 1973, the new store opened on the former parlor floor of an 1827 row house at 15 Christopher Street. With its public face and large windows, the bookstore was a welcoming sight to gay and lesbian New Yorkers and visitors from all over the world who would climb the low stoop, with its original wrought-iron railings, and enter the narrow shop, assured of a friendly greeting from Rodwell or his multi-racial staff.

“…many out-of-state Gay people, visiting the Village and the city’s Gay scenes, have encountered Gay liberation books and movement periodicals for the first time at ‘Oscar Wilde’. The friendly, relaxed atmosphere and the unhurried opportunity just to browse can be a liberating experience in itself.”
1974 article, Craig Rodwell Papers, NYPL

The store’s public presence also meant that it was subjected to vandalism, including a rock thrown through one of the plate-glass windows. Nonetheless, the bookstore remained an important fixture in the LGBT community, stocking an ever-increasing number of LGBT books, periodicals, and ephemera. Rodwell hosted book signing and meet-the-author events with Tennessee Williams, Rita Mae Brown, Anthony Perkins, Janis Ian, Patricia Neil Warren, Christopher Isherwood, Harvey Fierstein, and many other LGBT authors.

In 1992, Rodwell received a Lambda Literary Award for Publisher’s Service, in recognition of his pioneering efforts in creating a bookstore for the LGBT community. He sold the shop in 1993, just before he died. Kim Brinster, the shop’s longtime manager, bought the business in 2006. Citing a sharp decline in sales following the 2008 financial crisis and increasing competition from online book sellers, Brinster closed the shop on March 29, 2009.

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