In former times, Ruta Skujins could crib a line from Mark Twain about over-exaggerated demises when asked about her bookstore’s health.
But now, it looks like True Colors Bookstore, the world’s oldest, continuously operating feminist bookstore at 48th and Chicago may close its doors this year.
“We are currently so far behind in our rent it’s ridiculous,” Skujins said. “Until we get caugt up in our rent we can’t think about anything other than closing.”
The Armatage resident and her partner bought the Northrop bookstore in 2008 after being forced to retire early from her former job at Ecolab following a motorcycle accident.
"I love books, I edit books and I always wanted to own a bookstore," she explained. "Amazon (the store's former name) had this wonderul history that I thought deserved to continue."
At the time, though, the store was struggling.
"So about two weeks before the store was to close I held my breath and made an offer," Skujins said. "In some ways it was like reviving a corpse. The utilities had all been cancelled, publisher accounts closed, stock returned, obituaries written and the fact of the closing was bemoaned all over the internet."
Even though Skujins was able to recussitate the shop, many patrons thought the business was closing. Combined with the impact of the recession on customers' wallets, Skujins said, not even laying off or reducing hours for much of the store’s former staff didn’t help.
“In the last three years our business has dropped 50 percent,” she said. “There are people who still come in or who we meet somewhere who think ‘oh I thought this had closed.’”
Skujins speculated that generational shifts within the feminist and LGBT communities might also be to blame. Fewer younger people, she said, are looking for a physical community center.
To try to get caught up on their rent before their lease runs out in February, True Colors is holding a benefit on Jan. 21 at the former Spirit of the Lakes church in Longfellow headlined by local singer-songwriters Chastity Brown and Ellis, and other prominent artists. If the benefit doesn’t come up with enough money, though, Skujins said she thinks True Colors' closure would leave a hole in the community. Indeed, the store's Facebook page and the Facebook page advertising the benefit have been filled with supportive comments like "I only wish I could but Australia is just a little too far away."
“We provide space for so many events,” Skujins said. “If you’re a self-published author in the Cities, you know Barnes & Noble won’t carry you, but I will. It’ll be the end of a tradition.”
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