Since Donald Trump's electoral victory on November 8, Women & Children First in Chicago, Ill., has aimed to be a "safe and therapeutic gathering space" for the store's community, and is planning events for 2017 with a focus on political activism and organization. The community has responded: Women & Children First had its best ever Small Business Saturday, with sales up 50% over 2015, and the store has seen a renewed commitment on the part of customers to "making sure that our doors stay open and our business thriving," reported co-owner Sarah Hollenbeck.
"The holidays have been very strong," said Hollenbeck. "Yes, retail therapy is definitely a real phenomenon, but also people are educating themselves about why the election fell the way it did."
Among the store's bestsellers are Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance, White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. Hollenbeck added: "Many shoppers want to better understand the systemic divisions between different races and different classes in this country and, thankfully, they're turning to books to find those insights."
On November 29, the store held an open mic night called "Everything Hurts" as part of its monthly feminist Sappho's Salon series. The series is an open mic in which anyone other than cisgender men can participate, and usually is held on the second Tuesday of the month. It was rescheduled in November because of the election, and for this special edition, which Hollenbeck described as a response to the "deep anxiety, anger and sadness" caused by the election, anyone could participate. The event had 41 attendees and about a dozen performers, and the store raised $90 to help a group of high school students attend the march in Washington, D.C., in January. On the following day, Women & Children First held an in-store Meditation and Self-care Workshop, which ended up being twice the size of what Hollenbeck had expected.
Hollenbeck and her colleagues plan to build on this momentum in January with several new programs: a monthly event called Activism, a Feminist Craft Circle series and a literary series called the Conversation. Each month, the Activism series will showcase a specific, local social justice organization, and each organization will explain its mission, hold a question and answer session and present an action plan that people can get involved in. The Feminist Craft Circle will meet for the first time on January 4 to knit hats for the Pussyhat Project, which aims to provide one million pink wool hats for protestors joining the Women's March on Washington, D.C., scheduled for January 21. And the Conversation, meanwhile, will launch on January 26 with a panel discussion about art and resistance.
Throughout the holidays, Women & Children First has been giving customers options for donating to two organizations: the store is a drop-off location for the Black Lives Matter Chicago Toy Drive, and it will host a book drive for Sit Stay Read, a literacy program that provides books to children in some of Chicago's most underserved neighborhoods.
"As a feminist bookstore, we believe that it is our responsibility to help folks harness their anger, sadness, and anxiety into activism," explained Hollenbeck. "Also, our base is more committed than ever to ensuring that we're not going anywhere. They recognize that feminist spaces, spaces for ideas, and progressive thought are more vital than ever and more at risk than ever." --Alex Mutter