The streets were empty in Leeds, and so were the shopping centres. As I walked into the Merrion centre in Leeds I wondered why on earth would anyone set up a bookshop or any kind of shop in the middle of a pandemic?
Ray and her partner Nicola had done just that though!
The first dry queer space for the community in Leeds.
When I went to the bookshop called Bookish Types tucked away on the upper floor, I found Ray. She opened the door with a beaming smile and welcomed me in. The feeling I immediately got from her was one of pride. Ray seemed to be so proud of her bookshop, which was filled to the brim with queer literature –thrillers, romances, fiction and non-fiction. She said “I love being immersed in books” and it was plain to see from her face that she did.
There was a genuine excitement about her, which I found quite extraordinary given we were all going through a global pandemic, and we were in lockdown!
She showed me round the shop, and I have to say I was surprised at the range of books on the shelves. It was a small cosy space that just had this comforting vibe about it.
She told me how they had been inspired to open a shop by a place they had seen in Glasgow, that they didn’t know how to do it but they just did it. “We took a risk” she said “on this unit, and on the timing! but it felt like a safe space for us to be, the right space and the right time”
I asked her why she had opened during a pandemic and she said “why not? It can only get better from here” Her partner Nicola had built a website in three days, I remember Nicola saying “ I hadn’t built a website before, but you only learn how to build a website when actually build a web site”
I found the pair of them to be amazingly positive with such an inspiring attitude to life, which was lovely to be around when a lot of the world was struggling.
Ray told me about her own adolescent where it was against the law to be taught about homosexuality at school. How there wasn’t much out there for the queer community, in terms of literature. This was one of the reasons that had inspired her to open a bookshop “This is a space for everyone” she would say, “I want all to feel welcome”
I left Ray and Nicola celebrating their first birthday with over 70 of their supporters and friends in a church hall in Leeds as lockdown ended. They had a programme of events lined up for the year and they just couldn’t wait to start trading in “normal” times, as they put it.
They had managed the pandemic with aplomb, courage and compassion, and as one of their customers told me “ “Having this space has meant that I have found somewhere that I belong, it was and is an oasis for me, particularly when I was going through this pandemic alone and dealing with the grief of losing my mother”