The country’s second largest bookstore – Exclusive Books in Nelson Mandela Square in Johannesburg – has closed its gay and lesbian section.
The store’s gay nook, which usually housed a good selection of gay themed books, magazines, and a smattering of erotica was missing in action this weekend – replaced instead by a plethora of crime novels.
A staff member at the store explained that the section had been closed by the manager who, he said, “was sick of the books being damaged.”
Further enquiries to the shop by Mambaonline on Tuesday did not entirely clarify matters. We were told that the manager was on leave but the assistant manager denied that the section had been closed. “It’s not true. We have just removed them [the books] temporarily,” he said.
When asked when the books would be back onto the shelves, he replied that he was unsure, adding that, “I will only know when my superior returns. Although they are likely to be back by Monday next week.”
But, according to Jill Van Zyl – Retail Development Manager at Exclusive Books, the section has indeed been closed – as “an experiment.”
Van Zyl, who stressed that books are ordered directly by stores and not by head office, said that the motivation for closing the gay and lesbian section was indeed because of the damage inflicted on books in the section.
“We have to make a profit and if the books are so damaged that none of them get sold then we have to think about that,” she said. She added that the manager would monitor the reaction to the section being closed for a month or so before deciding whether to re-open it.
In the meantime, Van Zyl, who suggested that there may no longer be a need for the section because of the “country’s constitution and the integration” of gays and lesbians in society, said that some gay themed novels would be incorporated in the standard fiction section under the authors’ names.
“This is for purely practical reasons. We are not anti-anything,” she added.
Mambaonline’s Editor Luiz DeBarros, expressed shock at the section’s closure. “This is a slap in the face to the company’s gay and lesbian customers. As the only significant book-chain in the country, the company, which is in essence a monopoly, has a responsibility to give its gay and lesbian customers some visibility on its shelves,” he said.
He went to add that, “Exclusive Books has long had a positive and progressive relationship with the gay community – and this action is short-sighted. Closing the section may be a matter of profit for Exclusive Books, but it’s a social and political issue for its gay clientele.”
He further expressed concern that the trend could extend to other Exclusive Books stores: “Without shelf space distributors will stop importing gay and lesbian themed books into the country.”
Van Zyl said that she would consider a suggestion to only have display copies of books on the shelves rather than all the title’s stock to reduce the impact of damage. “I would have thought that would be common sense for a bookstore,” said DeBarros.
Those wishing to contact Exclusive Books on the matter can do so through Jill Van Zyl on 011 803 3773 or via the store itself on 011 784 5416.