Houston’s LGBTQ landscape has changed so much over the years. Opportunities to meet, greet, and secrete used to be confined to a 20-square-block area beginning at Shepherd and ending at Taft. The community had its own firmly established Pride parade route and several affirming spaces for food, drink, entertainment, and sex.
And for those who were less bar-centric, there were the bookstores.
Throughout the ’90s, three stores catered to the literary and entertainment needs of Montrosians: Lobo Book Shop, Inklings Bookshop, and Crossroads Market. This trio was preceded by Houston’s first feminist entry, Wilde ’N’ Stein Books on lower Westheimer, which operated from 1977 through 1986.
In a recent conversation, three of these LGBTQ bookstore executives reminisced about their establishments in celebration of Pride 2020.
After Lobo bookstore owner Larry Lingle came out at 37, he wanted to create a community in the Lone Star State. “I realized that there were no gay bookstores in Texas. I wanted to change that,” he recalls.
Lingle and his late partner, Bill White, opened their first Lobo bookstore in Dallas in 1973. “Gay paraphernalia, videos, and books were a big part of our business,” Lingle says. “Our shop was busted for selling dildos [in 1986], and later the same year our New Orleans store was raided and Bill was arrested. We closed after that.”
Following that debacle, the couple opened a Lobo in Houston on “the curve” of Westhiemer in 1986. “Houston was much more accepting of our business,” Lingle recalls. After moving to the city, he met several prominent LGBTQ activists such as Gene Harrington, Jay Hollyfield, and Sue Lovell, who all helped Lingle and White become politically engaged. In 1996, Lobo moved to an upscale Montrose Boulevard location that lasted until 2004, when competition from online commerce doomed many brick-and-mortar bookstores.
Pokey Anderson co-founded Inklings with former Houston Mayor Annise Parker in 1988. “Annise and I realized that [lesbians] didn’t have a bookstore,” Anderson notes. “Lobo was in existence, but it wasn’t a place that was oriented towards women. It also wasn’t a place you could bring family or friends who weren’t gay. We wanted a milder sort of venue for people who might be questioning their identity.”
Inklings was a welcoming space for everyone, Anderson says. “We opened our upstairs space to community groups. We sold tickets for events and hosted many gay and lesbian authors. When Tales of the City author Armisted Maupin was here, people lined up out the door onto Richmond Avenue to meet him.”
Unfortunately, competition and a change in the marketplace led the business to close in 1997. “Inklings was not a venture to make money, it was an effort to build up the community and our allies,” Anderson says. “We achieved the goals that we set out to accomplish.”
Houston lawyer Judith Meyer helped open Crossroads Market with the store’s owner Joe Ramunni in 1992. “I was practicing commercial litigation, and had endured an extremely stressful couple of years. I wanted to try something different, and the opportunity at Crossroads came up.”
The store was initially located on West Alabama before it relocated across from Mary’s bar on Westheimer in 1996. “In addition to books and magazines, we had a wide array of merchandise,” Meyer says. “All kinds of gifts, and every sort of gay signifier you could think of.”
“I enjoyed helping people find what they needed,” she adds. “I especially liked meeting authors—quite a few came to Crossroads, including Anne Rice. It was pouring down rain that day, and people were lined up around the block. She stayed until every person had their book signed. People were so overjoyed to meet her that they were actually hyperventilating.”
Even when no authors were visiting, folks spent hours on end at Crossroads. “Sometimes you just want to be in a place where you don’t have to explain yourself, where people get the concept. I think we are missing that now,” Meyer says, explaining that she decided to close Crossroads in 2002. “These days, it’s difficult to find a place to just hang out.”
Viewed through today’s “social distancing” lens, Inklings’ Pokey Anderson echoes that statement. “As we are now sheltering in place, the loss of ‘gathering centers’ is even more acute. We are missing the opportunity to congregate. Some of that can happen on the Internet, but in actuality, it’s the real-life spaces that create community, friendships, and partnerships.”
For more information about Lobo Book Shop, Inklings, and Crossroads Market, visit houstonlgbthistory.org.
This article appears in the June 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.