Posts tagged Toledo

Local Feminist Bookstore More Than Books

By Kelsey Klein

The first time I visited People Called Women, I met a woman with a lizard. It was Valentine’s Day and she had come in the shop looking for a lesbian love card; the lizard was incidental. The mohawked woman took it everywhere with her, she said.

Another woman, wearing a multicolored striped hat, was in the store that afternoon as well. She had stopped in while doing errands and found herself venting to the owner of the shop. The two women talked familiarly about politics as the patron browsed the store.

People Called Women, an independent, feminist multicultural bookstore in Toledo, Ohio, is a place owner Gina Mercurio strives to make an accepting atmosphere. From children’s books to “The Guy’s Guide to Feminism,” People Called Women has something to interest many different people. And that’s the way Mercurio wants it.

Gina Mercurio sits behind the counter at People Called Women. Photo by Kelsey Klein.

“To me, feminism includes all sorts of things,” she said. “That’s part of what feminism is.” Feminists should support all manner of social justice efforts, including multiculturalism and anti-poverty work, Mercurio said.

Patron Sharon Barnes thinks People Called Women truly supports her. “I know I can find material here that’s not racist, not sexist and not homophobic,” she said.

That diversity is what People Called Women aims for. When the store opened in 1993, Mercurio decided to keep books by women of color in the front window instead of letting white authors dominate the space. She still keeps that policy.

Not even the lizard—a bearded dragon, by the way –was looked at strangely at People Called Women. If anything, the unexpected pet was met with interest and curiosity, Mercurio and I both petting his spiny sides.

The idea of People Called Women first came to Mercurio as a senior at the University of Toledo. The first wave of feminist publishing was happening and Mercurio wanted a feminist bookstore in Toledo. At the time, however, she did not have the resources to open the store.

Years later, Mercurio was living in Boston. She had saved some money, her family contributed some money and she decided it was time to open the store in Toledo.

“Big cities have all these different kinds of cultural opportunities that smaller cities like Toledo don’t have,” she

said. “In terms of a feminist bookstore, I thought it would be perfect in Toledo… I know I would have appreciated it when I was growing up.”

People Called Women is now the only feminist bookstore in Ohio, according to Mercurio.

Great American Women. Photo by Kelsey Klein.

When I wandered in to People Called Women, I was greeted by a blanket depicting “Great American Women of the 20th Century.”

To the right inside the door I found a small children’s section. The room opened up into a space lined with bookshelves. I found a rack of t-shirts with feminist slogans and handmade jewelry hanging on small racks throughout the store. Bumper stickers with slogans like “Come Out” and “Stop Blaming the Victim” caught my eye.

The main room of People Called Women, as viewed from the back of the store. Photo by Kelsey Klein.

Toward the back of the store I discovered a small hall full of literature from the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, pamphlets of women’s health information and event flyers. I was stunned by the mass of information vying for my attention.

A community room, which also houses the store’s used books, has a deep couch, comfortable chairs and cookies on the coffee table. It feels homey and comfortable, a place to meet and catch up with friends.

The bookstore has become a meeting place for organizations like Toledo’s chapter of the National Organization for Women, the Toledo Take Back the Night collective, and the Agnes Reynolds Jackson Fund, a fund that assists women seeking abortions.

“It’s a resource beyond what’s on the shelves here,” Anita Rios, president of Toledo NOW said. It is a meeting

A NOW sign sits on a case full of used books. Photo by Kelsey Klein.

place, a safe space, and a place for education, she said.

Mercurio agreed. “I’d have to say it’s as much of a community center as it’s a bookstore, and I think that’s what feminist bookstores do very well,” she said.

“It’s a place to meet. It’s a place for people to organize around social justices issues and where else can you do that? At universities. But this is an actual place in the community where people can come together and do important things.”

During a Toledo NOW meeting, Barnes sprawled out on the couch. Rios, across from her, sat in a cushioned chair with a pillow. Another woman sat with her legs curled under her. Mercurio was present, sitting in sweatpants and a hooded sweatshirt with the line “Hey Mister Keep Your Hands Off My Sister” printed on it.

The women were discussing a recent NOW protest of the Catholic Church’s birth control stance. They passed around a newspaper article about the protest outside of Toledo’s Mercy St. Anne Hospital. A photo of Rios holding a sign with the slogan “Birth Control is a Human Right” garnered excitement.

The group threw themselves into planning a second protest. The energy and feminist ideology in the store that

day was as thick as some of the books.

Members of Toledo NOW in the community room of People Called Women. Photo by Kelsey Klein.

The ideology in People Called Women is almost palpable. I feel surrounded by feminism in the store and encouraged to take a stand for what I believe. Sitting in the room with the members of NOW, I was ready to jump into the meeting.

Barnes and Mercurio jumped during the NOW meeting when Sarah Balser came into People Called Women unexpectedly.

A Toledo area native now living in Akron, Balser makes a point to visit People Called Women whenever she’s in the area. When living in Toledo, Balser volunteered at People Called Women.

“PCW is home,” she said. “I can’t imagine Toledo without it.”

The feeling of home is something repeated by the women I spoke to.

“It’s kind of like coming to your friends’ house in some ways,” patron Stacy Jurich said. “I came in the door and started venting to Gina, like I think a lot of women do.”

I felt like I was at a friend’s house when Mercurio left the counter for a moment and asked me to answer the phone if it rang.

“Stall them if someone calls,” she shouted as she walked through a doorway.

With no choice in the matter, I lamented my lack of reason to refuse. Lucky for me, the phone never rang and I didn’t have to test my stalling skills.

As our interview was winding down, Mercurio suggested we step outside for a smoke. Lighting her cigarette, she blew smoke into the bitter wind. We talked for a few minutes about the impact of young feminists and feminist organizations at Bowling Green State University before the cold became too much for us and we parted—Mercurio into People Called Women and me to my car, to blast Riot Grrrl music the whole way home, empowered and feeling quite feminist.



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Voice on Fire

Frankie’s Inner-City of Toledo, Ohio, has hosted its fair share of rock legends over the years. Since the bar’s opening, The Goo Goo Dolls, The Barenaked Ladies, Coheed & Cambria and more have rocked the walls of this humble midwestern hotspot.

On this night, it is cold outside Frankie’s, but the environment inside is that of a sweltering jungle. The members of the crowd crawl over one another in an attempt to get as close to the stage as possible, patrons at the bar lean against the railing, distorting themselves in order the best view. As the lights dim and the music begins with an epic guitar solo, the fans, clad in their bright blue, green and pink shirts, begin to scream and welcome in the next generation of Frankie’s talent, the band they love. Burn the Ships, with front man Kenan Smith, have taken the stage.

*  *  *

Burn the Ships perform their song "Sona Gratia" at a show in Toledo, Ohio.

Smith started the band back in 2006, when he, Dustin Gilbert, Adam Johnson, Cannen Hodgson, and Adam Chippewa were just out of high school in Brooklyn, Mich. Today they’ve performed at more than 100 shows, and released their debut album, and they are in the studio working on their second.

It’s Smith, though, who remains the driving force behind the Burn the Ships movement.
Smith has poured his heart and soul into the band from day one, getting the members together and ultimately deciding to turn a dark period in his life into a neon-bright experience for fans.
“I live for this band. It’s been my passion and almost my guidance throughout the past five or six years,” Smith said.
The “dark period” in Smith’s life came when Smith and his brother, Kyle, were growing up in Wisconsin and eventually Brooklyn, Michigan.
When Smith was 15 years old, he noticed a change in his mother. The woman who had been a great parent to her four children for years suddenly seemed distant.
“I guess I’ll just say that she pretty much became a physically present absentee parent,” said Smith.
To listen to Smith’s brother tell the story, it happened quite suddenly.
“She just decided to check the hell out one day. Wanted to live in some fantasy world I guess,” said the younger Smith.
The drastic change in his mother took Kenan Smith to a dark place. Like most teenagers faced with a life altering event, he had trouble processing. He began having trouble finding meaning in his day-to-day life. He found it next to impossible to feel passionate about anything or even communicate with his peers.
After about a year of this, Smith started writing music in his garage.
He suddenly rediscovered his voice. He became excited to get up in the morning, and began scribbling notes and lyrics on anything that was handy.
“It might sound corny, but it was like being reborn when I started writing the music,” said Smith. “I had something to be happy about again.”
Not only was he writing, Smith believed, he was writing with a purpose.
“Kenan went through some things, we both did, and whereas I channeled it into my stuff, he channeled it into his music,” said Kyle Smith. “He wanted to help people get from where he had been to where he was.”
To Smith this meant a few things, beyond just making a band.

Kenan Smith, in the garage where he began writing music as a teenager. Photo by Benjamin Romaker.


First, he wanted the band to be an outlet for people who might be going through some kind of their own trouble. Personable interaction with their audience followed.

“All of us had some moment when we were younger where these bands advertise being able to hang out with them backstage, but we always thought that was kind of an elitist thing,” said Smith.
In response to this, Smith intsructed the band to start doing the opposite. So instead of having fans try to come see them backstage after the show, they began walking into the crowd following their shows.
The second thing Smith came up with in an attempt to help get potential audience members from dark places such as the one he had been in, into the bright place he now found himself in, was a slightly more literal one.
“When we had those t-shirts made we almost went black. Then one of us, I can’t remember who, thought it would be cool for us to use some obnoxiously bright colors instead,” said Smith. “I loved it.”
Suddenly the band came upon their signature look. A handful of guys playing powerful music, wearing neon colored t-shirts and jumping in the crowd to hang out with their fans.
“They’re just a different experience,” said Meghan Crossman, a Burn the Ships fan. “When you go see them, you get an upbeat show with bright lights and really good crowd interaction, and it’s great.”
“We’re only getting started right now, we’re going to continue to grow and mature as a band. I think we owe it to our fans,” said Smith.
*  *  *
Back inside Frankie’s Inner-City, the band plays a half hour long set, during which Smith is high-fiving fans in the front rows, sporting a painfully bright yellow t-shirt, and pouring every ounce of himself into the performance.
Smith’s relationship with his mother still appears to be broken, but he learned to live with it, and rise above it.
When the show is finished, they jump off the stage and into the audience. After a while things settle down. Gilbert and Johnson try to show a younger fan how to play the introduction to one of their songs, while Hodgson and Chippewa share drinks with three fans who have become friends. Smith sits back, taking in the scene. He is in a good place.
“I could honestly care less if we’re the next Goo Goo Dolls or if we’re just little old Burn the Ships form Brooklyn. This, this right here, this has to be better than anything else,” said Smith.
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