An Interview with Gretchen Treu, owner of A Room of One’s Own Bookstore in Madison, WI.
Welcome to the next installment of the Bookstore Solidarity Project! Every month, we’ll be highlighting indie bookstore owners and booksellers across the country.
This month, we got to chat with Gretchen Treu, owner and manager of A Room of One’s Own Bookstore in Madison. Named after the iconic Virginia Woolf essay, Room is a feminist, queer- and trans-friendly little store. (Room was also featured in Danny Caine’s How to Protect Bookstores and Why!)
Your name and pronouns?
Gretchen Treu (they/them)
Tell us a little bit about the store and your community!
Room was founded in 1975 as a scrappy little feminist bookstore, and has grown over the years into Madison’s biggest independent bookstore. We are an all-around indie with a strong focus on LGBTQIA, anti-racism, abolitionist, feminist, progressive voices in all genres. We’re a dog-friendly shop (and sometimes shop dogs Clio and Janeway come to work with us!). We are known for our community work and activism (we initiated Bookstores Against Borders in 2019, raising over $100K with the help of other indie bookstores and readers to benefit RAICES, an immigrant rights org that does important work particularly in Texas). We have a quirky and no-holds-barred social media brand and are particularly known for our book flowcharts and other queer social media vibes. Wes Lukes and I bought the store in 2018 from longtime owners/founder Sandi Torkildson and Nancy Geary, and reinvigorated its radical commitments just before the onset of the pandemic. We have a beautiful new space (we were displaced from downtown Madison due to a gentrifying high-rise that demolished our former block). We’re in the beautiful, low-key Atwood neighborhood on Madison’s East side, in an old barrel-roofed building, surrounded by tons of families and progressive community members and dozens of likeminded local small businesses, which is a perfect location for us.
What got you into bookselling?
I loved books from a young age and just never let go.
What’s something about your store that you think will surprise people?
Our store’s floors have a very slight slope, because over a hundred years ago when it was built, the building was home to a car repair place, (there’s a pulley from the Model-T Ford system that’s hanging above the original entryway near our checkout counter). The floors sloped so that oil and water and whatever other fluids would flow out the building into the street to be washed into the sewer. When we moved here and the builders retrofitted our old bookshelves into the space there was much gnashing of teeth and some very creative solutionmaking to accommodate this reality.
What are some of you favorite ways your community supports your store?
I love when customers get into a particular staff person’s recommendations, or tell us about how a book we sold them was the perfect choice for what they were looking for. I think of books as an elaborate and uniquely human way to communicate expressively and asynchronously, we’re all just yelling into the void. You know. More or less quietly. It’s magical to feel an off-the-beaten-path real connection with a community member. I also just love hearing people come into the store and exclaim over the huge breadth of queer books and sidelines we have. Being a destination for queer people, especially trans and non-binary people who don’t always feel directly welcomed in queer spaces (particularly legacy feminist/lesbian ones like Room historically was) is what we’re here for. Those community-building connections are huge.
What are two books you can’t wait for people to read, or your current favorite handsells?
I can’t wait to sell The Woods All Black by Lee Mandelo–it’s the historical fiction T4T monsterfucking horror novella of my dreams. I’m also very excited about Mercury Stardust’s Safe and Sound book of home repair for renters–I think it’s such a kind and helpful book that serves a niche nobody else is paying attention to.
How can customers who aren’t local shop your shelves?
They can order on our website at roomofonesown.com, or email us for recommendations at email@example.com
Check out our other Bookstore Solidarity Project posts here!