Located in the heart of bustling Downtown, nestled between the Civic Media Center and Fire Rescue Department, is a small bookstore that has become a sanctuary and place of hope for marginalized Gainesville residents. While Wild Iris is by definition a bookstore, it’s so much more than that.
1. Wild Iris is Florida’s only feminist bookstore.
I don’t think people realize how massive Florida is. It’s surprising that in a state that houses 19 million people, it only has one bookstore dedicated towards women’s rights. This news is bittersweet because while I’m saddened by the fact that there aren’t more, I’m proud that my town is the homeland for such an important landmark. Wild Iris’ devotion towards intersectionality is important when it comes to the resources they provide. Their shelves are stocked with books that cater towards women regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender, religion and culture. They promote books that focus on women’s studies, feminist thought, lesbian and gay fiction, gender identity topics as well as progressive children’s books. Unfortunately, the number of feminist bookstores in the U.S. is dwindling, and because so many of them are independently run, it’s important to support them. For someone who is unsure/ashamed of who they are, this is a place that provides the resources to allow that person to feel safe, learn and grow.
2. Wild Iris originated from badass feminist leaders from the 70s.
Sometimes when history repeats itself, it’s a good thing.
The history of Wild Iris started with the Womanstore Bookstore, created by Ann Gill in 1974 and located on 115 South Main Street. While this store was momentary, its inventory was kept and recycled for a new bookstore titled Amelia’s. Owned by Bonnie Coates and Linda Basham in 1975, they were located behind the current Wild Iris, and were well-known for providing counseling and rape crisis services. Their funding was unfortunately withdrawn, when more conservative Gainesville residents complained when it was found that the bookstore was used as a space for planning protests and demonstrations. Coates and Basham sold the store to Carol Aubin and Gerry Green who owned the store until 1982. In that timespan, the store carried around 1100 different titles, which included Second Wave Feminism and Lesbian Pride. The store was hotbox for political activism which included holding protests and marches for Women’s Rights, Civil Rights and Gay Pride.
After about a 10-year break, a new feminist bookstore emerged. Susan Keel and Kerry Godwin created Iris Books in 1992. Iris Books housed over 10,000 titles, which included feminist classics, women’s spirituality and recovery, feminist science fiction and gender and queer theory. New owners, Dotty Faibisy and Bev White changed the name to Wild Iris and included non-book items which included pride paraphernalia, cards and bumper stickers and woman-made crafts. In 2004, Cheryl Krauth and Lylly Rodriguez owned the store and did their part to ensure that Wild Iris would be a place of hope and diversity in the beginning of the 21st century.
Since 2009, Erica Merrell and Cheryl Calhoun follow the footsteps of the broad activists before them who fought to create a space that celebrates culture and originality. The bookstore does its part to ensure that those disenfranchised have the resources to live up to their full potential.
3. Wild Iris supports local authors.
Let’s raise a heavily stained coffee mug to all the sleep-deprived writers out there.
As any inspiring author knows, it’s sometimes difficult to promote your work and gather an audience. For local authors, Wild Iris makes this easy. If you’re a writer residing in the Gainesville area, Wild Iris will display your work in their local author section. If you already sell books on your website, it would be beneficial to join their affiliate program. The way this program works is by creating a hyperlink to Wild Iris’ webpage, visitors on your website can click on this Wild Iris link and enter the Wild Iris website. All books ordered by visitors that come to the Wild Iris website directly from yours are tracked, and you will receive a commission for each sale. The process to be an affiliate is safe, easy and free. For more information on how to become an affiliate go here.
For customers, reading local authors allow readers to immerse with their community while providing them with the knowledge that their money is going towards a good cause. Wild Iris’ devotion towards supporting local authors showcases their love and admiration for the Gainesville people.
4. Wild Iris does more than just sell books.
Wild Iris’ love for the safety and well-being of Gainesville residents is shown through their undying passion to provide a safe place for those in the community who need it most. A great example of this, is their Trans Affairs program. Trans Affairs was started by co-owner Erica Merrell and activist Yocheved Zenaida-Cohen with the goal to offer resources and protection to the trans community. With the help of donations, the program is able to offer expensive items such as chest binders, breast forms, make-up and clothing, which would offer security and comfort to a trans person in need of these items. The program holds support groups which allow trans people to express their feelings/concerns in a safe environment. Wild Iris is loved in Gainesville, as shown by their devotion towards supporting the people in the community. The store promotes local businesses, shops, authors and restaurants on their website and owners Merrell and Calhoun are constant attendees to any protest, rally or march.
5. Wild Iris is devoted to its volunteers
Wild Iris is completely run by volunteers which guarantees that everyone working there is in some way devoted towards feminist bookselling. When entering the bookstore, as a customer, it’s evident that the volunteers are passionate about what they do. It’s more than just placing a Bell Hooks novel on the top shelf and calling it a day. Volunteers are expected to work 4 hours a week to help customers, make displays, work the cash register, receive inventory and more. However, there are perks: there are books and a lot like-minded people to discuss them with. Also, if you’re a college student, you can get volunteer/internship credit for a class. If you’re interested in volunteering, you can find more information regarding how to apply here.
I would like to warn anyone who, after reading my post, immediately grabbed their bike, keys or bus pass with the intention of dropping everything to visit Wild Iris that they are unfortunately closed on Mondays. Wild Iris’ hours are Thursday and Friday from 1 to 7 p.m., and Saturday from 12 to 6 p.m. However, if you want to visit Florida’s only feminist bookstore, you can find me towards the back, trying to see how many books my tiny 5-foot frame can hold.