The first time I heard about Crazy Ladies Bookstore was at my friend Sally's house.
I am not sure why it came up in our conversation, considering we were probably in seventh and eighth grades at the time. Sally's mother, a midwife by profession, was and still is active in women's health issues and bought books there.
At the time, I thought the name of the store sounded funny. Much to Sally's chagrin, making jokes about the name of the store I had never visited was an occasional pastime of mine.
Fast-forward nearly two decades. I am about to enter the door of the mythical place, Crazy Ladies Bookstore, for the first time. Now I was in my 20s, out of the closet and the marketing and public relations person for the Cincinnati Men's Chorus. As part of my role with the chorus, I had to make regular visits to Crazy Ladies, because they were kind enough to sell tickets for our concerts each season.
I was still finding my way around the local gay community, so anyplace that wasn't a bar in the heart of downtown was uncharted territory for me.
At that point, the Hamilton Avenue strip where Crazy Ladies sits was still on the fringe of gay Cincinnati, and I felt like the cool insider for making my regular trips to the bookstore.
Over the next few years, I remained active in the chorus, so I continued my regular trips to Crazy Ladies. At the same time, Northside began to experience its own mini-renaissance. The few blocks around Crazy Ladies became a gay and lesbian strip of sorts.
Crazy Ladies and Bullfishes were neighborhood fixtures, but they were soon joined by a couple of new gay bars, a gay-friendly restaurant and a vintage clothing store, just to name a few.
Gays and lesbians had lived in Northside for some time, but now the rising gay quotient in the neighborhood became a regular topic of discussion, and people began to talk about the area taking over the moniker of Cincinnati's gay neighborhood from areas like Liberty Hill.
But talk is cheap. Just because gays and lesbians were moving to Northside in growing numbers didn't mean they were choosing to buy their books and cards at Crazy Ladies. As the Barnes & Nobles and Amazon.coms of the world grew, Crazy Ladies and its fellow independent feminist and gay and lesbian bookstores across the country began to suffer.
One widely discussed industry fact is that at least 35 percent of feminist bookstores and 40 percent of independent bookstores in the country have closed.
In my April 2001 column, in which I lamented the closing of New York City's A Different Light Bookstore, I posed the question, "Can you imagine losing Crazy Ladies or Pink Pyramid?"
Thankfully, the women behind Crazy Ladies were already taking steps to ensure that wouldn't happen. In recent weeks, the local media has reported the closing of Crazy Ladies.
While the stories have also mentioned that the organization will reopen its doors as the Greater Cincinnati Women's Resource Center, they failed to communicate exactly what this development means for Cincinnati.
"I think a lot of people had it in their heads that Crazy Ladies would always be there," says Maureen Wood, chair of the steering committee for the Crazy Ladies reorganization. "It will always be there. It just has to change form to work in today's world."
The change Wood is referring to is the plan she and the steering committee, along with quite a bit of community input, are putting in place to keep the Crazy Ladies legacy alive.
Though it has been reported that the store will close on Feb. 9, Wood says sales have picked up since the changes were announced, leading the steering committee to keep the doors open until they sell all the remaining stock. The doors will then close for an estimated six weeks while the building is renovated to make it ready for its new role as a resource center — a role, Wood points out, it has always served.
When it reopens, Cincinnati's newest resource for the feminist and gay and lesbian communities will be known as the Greater Cincinnati Women's Resource Center. The newly named entity will include four to five apartments; a small store; a warm, inviting meeting room complete with a lending library; two computers with Internet access; and the famous bulletin board and the Lesbian Archives.
According to Wood, one of the focuses for the center and its executive director, yet to be hired, will be to develop programming to keep things exciting at the resource center. Perhaps most importantly, the building will finally serve the role — resource center and meeting place — that the community has always expected from it.
"Change has been needed," Wood says. "I think people have a lot of hope."
So the shelves might be emptying, but the nurturing community spirit remains. While the closing of Crazy Ladies signifies the end of an historic era in the Cincinnati feminist and gay and lesbian communities, thanks to people like Maureen Wood, the other women on the steering committee and all the women who have been involved with this Cincinnati institution over the past 22 years, the next page in a rich story is already being written.
Support for the Greater Cincinnati Women's Resource Center has been strong. To date, contributions from 250 women have put $10,000 in the group's coffers. But these women have their work cut out for them. The organization's first capital campaign goal is $500,000. You can make a contribution by sending your check to the Greater Cincinnati Women's Resource Center, 4039 Hamilton Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45223. To volunteer, call 513-541-4198.