Lambda Rising, Dupont Circle’s LGBT bookstore since 1974, is set to close early next year. When Deacon Maccubbin, the shop’s longtime owner, retires, he plans to begin work on his own book. “Every bookstore owner thinks they’ve got a book in them,” says Maccubbin, 66. His story, he says, will be about “life at Lambda Rising.” But with Lambda Rising gone, who will stock it?
With Lambda Rising’s closing, D.C. will lose its sole gay bookstore. Maccubbin has already sold the storefront at 1625 Connecticut Ave NW to an undisclosed buyer who “hasn’t figured out what they’re going to do with it yet”—-there are no particular plans for a new LGBT outfit in the store’s stead.
But Maccubbin says that part of Lambda’s mission has always been inspiring a crossover appeal. “When we started the store back in 1974, bookstores simply didn’t carry gay books, or they didn’t classify them as having a gay author with a gay story to tell,” he says. Now, a typical chain might carry “100 or 200 gay titles” on its shelves.
That selection pales in comparison to Lambda’s collection of 20,000 titles, but Maccubbin still sees any “Gay and Lesbian” section as a victory. “Part of the impetus of opening the store was to convince authors to write these books, convince publishers to finance these books, and convince bookstores to stock those books,” he says. “And we have been successful in getting them to do that.”
Over the years, the narrative of the gay bookstore entered into the mainstream. When the store first opened, “we experienced a lot of homophobia. A lot of threats—-telephone threats, bomb threats, windows broken. The Washington Post and [other outlets] didn’t want us advertising with them, and they refused our money.” In the absence of city resources devoted to the LGBT community, the bookstore functioned as a “de facto community center,” sponsoring its first Pride Parade in 1975, and hosting a line outside the store “for five days straight” during the 1993 March on Washington.
But as time passed, advertising policies changed, D.C. got an official LGBT community center, and the homophobic scares slowed to the occasional “after-school kids running through the store and yelling ‘faggot’.” Now, property damage is of the apolitical sort: “We had a broken window a year ago,” says Maccubbin. It wasn’t an anti-gay thing, though. Someone just fell into the window.”
“It’s bittersweet,” says Maccubbin of the store’s ending. Maccubbin attributes the closing to both business and personal reasons—-beyond the book plans, he’s excited to travel to “many, many” countries with husband Jim Bennett. But he also wanted to make sure the story didn’t end with Lambda’s fall. “We didn’t have to close right now. We could probably have held on for a year or two or five, but I didn’t want to be in a situation where the quality of our stock and the quality of our service would start to slide,” Maccubbin says. “The gay and lesbian community gets enough crap from the world in general. We’ve always had a very clear idea that if our store was going to cater to them, it should treat them well.”
Photo by allaboutgeorge, Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0