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LGBTQIA+ History on Hennepin

Amazon Bookstore Cooperative

Storefront with large windows, awning over the sidewalk, and high arching sign above the one-story building facade with Amazon in arched lettering and Bookstore underneath with swirl designs on either side.

Amazon Bookstore, First U.S. Lesbian Book Store, Nemesis of Amazon.com, located at 2607 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis. Circa 1980. Photo credit: Light Allusions Photography, courtesy of Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies.

Amazon Bookstore Cooperative was a feminist bookstore located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, that operated from 1970 to 2012. It was the first lesbian and feminist bookstore in the U.S. The shop was named after the Amazons, a mythological tribe of fierce and independent women.

In 1970, when Rosina Richter Christy and Julie Morse Quist founded Amazon, it was far from a full-fledged bookstore. The books were kept in the front room of the women’s collective they lived in, and books were only available from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. or by special arrangement. This arrangement lasted for about two years before the bookstore moved to Minneapolis’ Lesbian Resource Center and then migrated through a series of different storefront addresses. Working conditions were sometimes difficult and included an unsafe neighborhood and a building with no heat where pipes froze, and people had to wear gloves inside the store.

In 1994, Amazon.com was founded, and within a year, problems started for Amazon Bookstore. Terms of a lawsuit by Amazon bookstore resulted in a small settlement and a requirement that Amazon Bookstore goes by ‘Amazon Bookstore Collective’ to reduce confusion with Amazon.com.

In 1999, the cooperative sued Amazon.com for trademark infringement. After sometimes acrimonious legal proceedings, the case was settled in November of that year, with Amazon Bookstore assigning its common law rights in the Amazon name to Amazon.com; and Amazon.com giving a license back to Amazon Bookstore Cooperative for the use of the Amazon name.

Amazon became ‘the oldest independent feminist bookstore in North America.’ It had an impact that extended both beyond its immediate area and beyond the United States. It also had a presence in popular culture. Cartoonist and graphic novelist Alison Bechdel was inspired to create the fictional Madwimmin Books in Dykes to Watch Out For based on experiences at the store.

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