York based Lesbian bookshop “Libertas” was once known as a beacon of light in a sea of isolation.
Sadly the day of the specialist bookstore has come and gone. Even the the big high-street chains have had several years of trouble seeing a string of mass mergers between the mainstream book and multimedia retailers, companies that have established links and distribution contracts with one of the main gay mafia “families” also in the same business.
Dillons was bought by HMV, Ottakers was taken over by Waterstones which became a subsidiary of HMV. The group proceeded to take over a number of stores from struggling rivals including Fopp and 8 Books etc stores from rival Borders UK. The market now consists of three key players – Virgin, WHSmith and HMV (HMV have been poised to take WHSmith over).
Despite being a relatively small, local operation based in a small shop in York, it’s owners quick thinking and success in mastering the mail-order market had paid off. Only 4 years after it was founded the company became “Europe’s Number 1 Lesbian Bookstore”. Sadly the actual bookshop itself which also sold gifts, greetings cards and specialist Lesbian products and local merchandise operated at a loss but stayed open despite facing an uphill battle.
The founders of Libertas are now retired and approaching their 70’s. It’s obvious they cared a great deal about their romantic little lesbian bookshop and must have been heartbroken to be forced to close shop for the last time in 2004. The actual bookshop itself wasn’t just a shop, it was a meeting place for Lesbians and other Women from all over the country. Something that to this day is missing although that does continue to some extent through the York Lesbian Arts Festival that was founded by a group of Women who used to meet at the shop. Various other Women’s groups, reading clubs and small businesses also used the premises including the once independent “DykeLife” newsletter, a free community alternative to the mainstream women’s mags such as DIVA.
The famous Lesbian colonies that still exist throughout the small villages of Yorkshire such as Hebden Bridge weren’t the only people who saw Libertas as refreshing. As the country’s only Lesbian bookshop it also offered gay, bisexual and trans women a national alternative to the male dominated gay lifestyle stores like Clone Zone and Prowler.
When it was announced the shop may be forced to close various reports and letters appeared in the gay press from it’s supporters expressing their shock and dismay. This is a slightly different story than the one portrayed by the Millivres Prowler Group – owners of rival online book store “DIVA Direct”, DIVA magazine (as well as many other titles including GayTimes, AXM, the Pink Paper as well as owning their own chain of gay lifestyle shops and publishing houses) which claimed they were stepping in as the bookshop’s saviors and would keep it alive through the established Libertas online store.
As a result, Millivres Prowler completely took the operation over and moved operations to it’s London office. Two years later the group relaunched DykeLife as a glossy magazine and filled it with targeted advertising and placements for it’s own products, capitalising on the acquisition of the 7,000 strong subscriber base built on the bones of the grassroots alternative it once was.
Despite the claims by the Millivres Prowler Group that the spirit of the bookshop would continue through the continued existence of the Libertas online store at http://www.libertas.co.uk which now redirects to “DIVA Direct”. It’s final remnants exist as the “Libertas forum” – a message board for reviewing titles available through DIVA Direct.
Today it appears Libertas is well and truly dead, although spinning in her grave – May she rest in peace.
Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.
“What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world an loses his own soul?”