Ah, the OnMilwaukee.com talkbacks. Great for a word of encouragement, creating heated reader debates, and now, for perhaps the first time ever, providing purpose for a T-shirt.
When the owners of Milwaukee's new feminist bookstore, Broad Vocabulary, read the talkback comments made on a previous OMC article announcing the store's impending arrival, one in particular caught their attention: "A great place to pick up dames."
"I just remember thinking, 'That would make a great shirt,'" says co-owner Amy Daroszeski, who, along with business partners Kelly Todd and Molly Tennessen, have made the T-shirt, and also their bookstore, a reality. After two years of preparation, Broad Vocabulary, 2241 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., has finally opened its doors to the public.
So, what has been happening since OMC last heard from the ladies in January 2004?
"The first year was a lot of fundraising," says Todd. "Then things got a little complicated with securing a loan." The bookstore's original name was to be Milwaukee Feminist Books, a name that was forced to change in order to get a loan.
"The Small Business Administration isn't allowed to give exclusionary loans," says Daroszeski. With the name Milwaukee Feminists Books, they were seen as solely a women's bookstore, and therefore too demographic-specific to qualify. With a few adjustments and a name change, they were on their way.
"To them, the word 'feminist' implied women only, but that's not what we think at all," she says. "We think that men can be feminists, too."
The ladies say that a major goal of the bookstore is to correct many of the old-fashioned stereotypes about feminism.
"Many people stereotype feminists as family-hating, bra-burning women who hate men," says Daroszeski. "But we're just the opposite. We don't hate men at all."
Not only is a large percentage of the store's foot traffic male, but, according to the owners, men are avid purchasers, as well.
"Sometimes, the people we'd expect to be turned off with our selection are the ones who end up buying things," says Todd. "We get lots of guys in here buying things for their wives or girlfriends."
Still, there are both men and women who remain uncomfortable with the idea of feminism. As this interview was taking place, a man walked in the store. Todd and Daroszeski greeted him and he replied, slowly and skeptically.
"Oh, this is a women's bookstore, isn't it?" Daroszeski answered yes, but that men are more than welcome to shop. The man was out the door without another word.
"That's never happened before!" said Todd. "That's the type of 'I don't belong here' attitude we're trying to combat. Everyone is welcome here."
Aside from feminist fiction and non-fiction, Broad Vocabulary offers selections in United States and global women's history, radical sociopolitical movements (queer, black power, animal rights, etc.), women's and gender-variant health, and non-sexist children and youth literature.
The store also features book and poetry readings, lectures, workshops, local art, music and other performances, all free-of-charge. Writer Vera Matich hosts a weekly writers' group Tuesday evenings at 6:30 and Friday mornings at 10:30. Anyone is invited to drop in to write on a specific topic and workshop their writing with the group.
The store also plans to host practical 'how-to" workshops, says Todd. Tool lady Sarah Moskonas will teach women how to fix toilets, do electrical work and other traditionally male jobs.
Broad Vocabulary is the second feminist bookstore to open in Milwaukee. The first, Sister Moon, opened 30 years ago on Irving and Farwell, and closed its doors in the '80s.
"It makes sense that it closed during the Reagan era," says Daroszeski. "But we figured it was time we opened, as if to say, 'Feminism's not dead!'"
The ladies have an extensive grand opening party planned for June, including a talk by Bitch magazine editor Lisa Jervis, performances by the Miltown Kings and self-defense demos by members of Alive & Kickin', a women-owned martial arts school in Bay View. Check their events calendar for exact dates.
Broad Vocabulary's Web site is broadvocabulary.com.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.
As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When OnMilwaukee.com offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”