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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    The world of Fourth Avenue bookshops

    Karen Soper browses through cards at Antigone Books on 4th Avenue on Tuesday, Sept. 1. She visits the bookstore a couple times a year when she visits from Green Valley.

    Just a short walk along University Boulevard from the center of campus, Fourth Avenue is already a student favorite for bars, restaurants, vintage shopping and nightlife. Students might not know, however, that Fourth Avenue is also home to a literary tradition every bit as rich and unique as the Chocolate Iguana’s chocolate-covered potato chips.

    The three bookstores along Fourth Avenue between University and the newly-reopened underpass — Antigone Books, The Book Stop and Revolutionary Grounds — have been providing Tucson with specialized books and gifts for a combined total of nearly ninety years. Each with its own bent and niche audience, the Fourth Avenue booksellers have something for every reader, from the most reluctant to the most rabid and from the most mainstream to the most revolutionary.

    Antigone Books, located on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Seventh Street, feels a bit like the house of a beloved aunt — if that aunt had a taste for highbrow literature, handmade cards and politically charged bumper stickers. Decorated with Tibetan prayer flags, bright paint and, of course, books, Antigone’s slogan describes the shop as “”a zany bookstore with a feminist slant.”” The neatly arranged rows of books feature titles both mainstream and less so, including hard-to-find magazines, a selection of used books and a specially decorated section of books for children and young adults.

    “”It started in 1973 as a kind of feminist collective,”” said current co-owner Trudy Mills. “”It was very tiny”” and has had four locations along Fourth Avenue before settling into its current well-lit, spacious (by Fourth Avenue standards) home. Mills took over the business in 1986 and now runs the store with her business partner Kate Randall.

    “”At the larger bookstores, a very small number of people decide what is important,”” said Mills. “”There isn’t the same diversity of voice”” as is possible with an independent bookstore like Antigone.

    Mills, who does most of the book buying for the shop, says that the freedom she has as a smaller, more specialized business is that she can cater to the needs of her audience in a way that large corporate bookstores can’t.

    Mills said the needs of that audience have changed with the times. “”In the past few years, we’ve seen a rise in popularity of books about politics and current events,”” she said. The longtime reading enthusiast says that might be, in part, a reaction to people’s discontent with the actions of the U.S. government.

    “”I just try to stock what our specific customers want,”” Mills said. “”We have a certain slant that we’re known for. I know other small, independent bookstores will carry things we don’t.””

    Over Antigone’s 36 years in business, Mills said competition with the Internet has been the biggest struggle.

    When the store was first opened, “”we had no gifts and a narrow focus,”” Mills said. “”We survived (with) a mix of books and gifts.”” Now a shopper can find hand-crafted leather journals, quirky coffee mugs and more mainstream bestsellers, as well as books about feminist theory and novels by minority authors.

    A bit farther south along Fourth Avenue, just before the underpass, sits The Book Stop. If entering Antigone is like being welcomed into the house of an eclectic aunt, The Book Stop feels like the home library of a grandfather from the 1950’s — a pipe and a sweater vest would not feel at all out of place. Specializing in used and out-of-print books, The Book Stop’s neat wooden shelves are filled with books and only books, a contrast to the bright, sparkling gifts at Antigone.

    “”Being around books is quite lovely,”” said Claire Fellows, one of the owners of The Book Stop. “”You meet so many interesting people.”” Fellows said it is the element of the unexpected that she enjoys most about working with used and rare books.

    “”It has changed,”” she said of the 52-year-old business. “”With the advent of the computer, we’ve had to compete for peoples’ leisure time. The computer is awfully attractive.””

    The three booksellers on the avenue are also supportive of each other, forming a sort of odd family of complementary styles. Owner of The Book Stop, Fellows, asked, “”Are you going (to) the other bookstores, too?”” After I assured her I’d already spoken with the owners of Antigone Books, Fellows said, “”And Revolutionary Grounds, don’t forget about them!””

    The plucky upstart of the Fourth Avenue literary smorgasbord, Revolutionary Grounds is a coffee shop and leftist bookstore located on Fourth Avenue just north of Fifth Street. The airy shop, which sells various progressive texts along with mostly vegan and vegetarian baked goods and sandwiches, will celebrate its one year anniversary in November.

    The bright space features many alternative texts and magazines, including sections with headings like “”international fiction,”” “”sustainability,”” and “”vegan and vegetarianism.””

    Revolutionary Grounds is the perfect place for students to research and talk about burgeoning concerns of social, environmental and political responsibility; along with a myriad of reference books on everything from military criticism to bilingual picture books, the shop hosts gatherings of like-minded people to talk about issues both simple and complex.

    Though all three Fourth Avenue booksellers can be found online, they encourage readers to come in and see for themselves what’s on the shelves. In the words of Claire Fellows, “”The only real knowledge comes from books.””


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