Alex Spencer, owner of Common Ground Books, Tallahassee's only LGBT+ focused bookstore, was preparing for her Aug. 6 grand opening and reflecting on the path that led her to this exciting moment.
"I've always loved books. They not only create an escape from reality when you need it, but books can also help give you a different perspective you might not understand otherwise. They can help you find common ground if you will. Ever since I was a teenager, my big dream was to own a bookstore," Spencer said.
There was a long detour before Alex Spencer's dream became a reality. She grew up in Brevard County and attended the University of Florida, majoring in Family, Youth, and Community Sciences.
After earning her master’s degree in Public Health from the University of North Florida, she was hired by the Department of Health and moved to Tallahassee. The next year, she started work on water issues at the Department of Environmental Protection for seven years.
Seeing a need, changing priorities
One day, Spencer saw a Facebook post from someone looking to buy a pan-sexual flag in Tallahassee and thought, "well, it's not June, so good luck."
She knew Tallahassee had a strong LGBT+ community, but no local store for this type of thing. "That small incident brought to mind Wild Iris Books, an LGBT and feminist bookstore in Gainesville I loved that closed in 2017. It had a great inventory of feminist and LGBT books that I found really inspiring."
Then fate took a turn. "My father passed away in 2018. It was then I realized I needed to start doing something I really loved. I finally got serious about opening the bookstore and took a very good online course to learn how to structure a small business. When the pandemic hit, I started reading a lot more," Spencer said.
"I discovered that LGBT+ books were hard to find in larger bookstores and online unless you knew what titles you were looking for. One of the pleasures of going to a bookstore is browsing and I encourage all my customers to take their time and look around," Spencer said.
"It's a great way to find new books or discover books with specific characters, or maybe you're just coming out and want to find books about that experience. Common Ground Books is a welcoming and safe space for all of that."
Historic house downtown
Spencer's bookstore is in a charming historic house near the downtown Main Library. She has stocked the store with over 2,000 titles, including adult and young adult fiction and nonfiction, almost 90% of them LGBT+ related.
The juvenile fiction and nonfiction chapter books include over 25% LGBT+ themes or strong female characters. There is also a variety of young children's picture books and board books. "Any age you are, you can walk through the store and find a book you'll like!"
Spencer loves the vitality of the Tallahassee arts scene and her store features both artists and authors. "I'm very happy to work with some amazing local artists on consignment, with everything from photography to macrame to pottery and soaps.
Blackthorne Ceramics, Cloverfield Charms, New Moon Fiber, Native Spirit Jewelry, Quarkmire Art, and 3 Muses Photography are just some of the local artisans whose work can be found in the store.
Customers can also find on the shelves a collection of very talented local writers, including a humorous non-fiction book, "Family, Funnies & Other F Words" by Erika Bell, and novels "Salt, Water, and Pueblo Neruda" by Emily Spindler, and "Help, It’s 1928!" by Laura Jerrolds.
A book of poetry by Royce Hall is coming soon, plus a couple of other local authors under consideration. "I'm always on the lookout for good books by local authors, so come by the bookstore or email me your suggestions."
Community gathering space
When asked why she felt it important to open an LGBT+ emphasis bookstore in Tallahassee, Spencer said that “you don't have to be gay to visit Common Ground Books; we're open to everyone, but I'm hoping it will evolve into a hub and community gathering space for the LGBT+ community."
In addition, Spencer is partnering with the local PFLAG chapter on a monthly drag story hour for kids that starts in September. On Nov. 5, there will be a book release party for "Rumors, Secrets & Lies," a new anthology from Anhinga Press with stories from local women about women's health and abortion. The authors will be reading.
Spencer intends to expand the programming in the fall.
"I want to start having monthly events here like open mic nights, book clubs, occasional movie nights, game nights, and craft nights. These will be either free or for a small fee, and all will be LGBT+ friendly," Spencer said. "In addition to PFLAG, I'd love to partner with other groups, and I welcome programming ideas. I'm also very open to individuals who want to get involved by volunteering as program hosts, so send me an email or stop by the store!"
Common Ground Books is an interesting, thought-provoking, and fun place now open for business. Drop by the store and browse for books, and congratulate Alex Spencer on making her dream come true.
If you go
What: Common Ground Books, 128 N. Bronough St.
Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday; 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday; 10 a.m.-3 p.m. and 4-6 p.m. Friday; and 2-6 p.m. Saturday. Visit cgbookstlh.com
or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Facebook and Instagram; cgbtallahassee.carrd.co/
Cynthia Hollis is a guest writer for the Council on Culture & Arts. COCA (Council on Culture & Arts) is the capital area’s umbrella agency for arts and culture (www.tallahasseearts.org)
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Alex Spencer fulfills dream with LBGT oriented Common Ground Books