Queer bookstore’s founders proud to operate in the ‘mecca’ of NYC

Bureau of General Services -- Queer Division bookstore cofounders and owners Greg Newton, left, and Donnie Jochum at the Village shop on Tuesday. The queer cultural center, bookstore and event space is located inside The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Greenwich Village’s volunteer-run queer bookstore hosts a gay men’s book club and a monthly movie night celebrating ethical non-monogamy.

Bureau of General Services -- Queer Division bookstore cofounders and owners Greg Newton, left, and Donnie Jochum at the Village shop on Tuesday. The queer cultural center, bookstore and event space is located inside The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center.
Bureau of General Services — Queer Division bookstore cofounders and owners Greg Newton, left, and Donnie Jochum at the Village shop on Tuesday. The queer cultural center, bookstore and event space is located inside The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center. Photo Credit: Li Yakira Cohen

Greenwich Village’s queer bookstore isn’t necessarily easy to find, but it’s worth seeking out. Located on the second floor of The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center, The Bureau of General Services — Queer Division (BGSQD), welcomes in guests with bubble gum pink walls, a soundtrack of ’80s pop music and a diverse selection of LGBTQ-affirming titles, strewed throughout unfinished plywood shelves.

Greg Newton and his partner (in life and business) Donnie Jochum opened the volunteer-run, nonprofit BGSQD in 2012 after the pair realized that Manhattan no longer had a queer bookstore.

“That’s embarrassing. For New York City. For us and so many queer people, it’s a mecca. You come here because you’re queer. There’s queer life that’s visible and active and proud and healthy,” Newton says. 

The bookstore carries a wide variety of titles by LGBTQ+ authors and books covering queer themes.
The bookstore carries a wide variety of titles by LGBTQ+ authors and books covering queer themes. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

At first, the bookstore popped up at a gallery on the Lower East Side, which Newton liked for the neighborhood’s rebellious, counterculture spirit. “It wasn’t a queer gallery in name, but it was a de facto queer feminist space.” An original plan to operate for two-and-a-half months extended to almost 10 months, as the bookstore saw success, though making rent was always challenging.

A meeting with The Center helped BGSQD secure a spot in the building, and the bookstore was welcomed in October 2014 when The Center’s renovation was complete. 

Buttons from The LGBT Community Center National History Archive are displayed during the Bureau of General Services -- Queer Division's summer exhibition on Tuesday.
Buttons from The LGBT Community Center National History Archive are displayed during the Bureau of General Services — Queer Division’s summer exhibition on Tuesday. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

BGSQD stocks a wide variety of titles by LGBTQ+ authors and books covering queer themes. Newton uses Lambda Literary to research new titles, takes shopper suggestions and also carries books from events hosted there. “Is it of interest to queer people?” is how Newton determines which titles belong on shelves.

New Yorkers frequent his store, as do travelers from abroad and across America, most of whom find the spot by Googling “gay bookstore.”

“We’re basically it,” Newton says. He references Bluestockings and Three Lives & Company, but BGSQD is different, with a sole focus on LGBT authors and themes. And it’s not easy. “We’re thrilled that The Center, donors and volunteers have allowed us to survive. We couldn’t do it without them," he says. 

Newton would love to one day pass on the bookstore to carry on the tradition, but he’d also be thrilled if someone was inspired by his project, and opened their own rendition. The store hasn’t changed much since it first opened, opting for unfinished wood and cardboard to display books, not only because it’s inexpensive, but because Newton believes it’s transparent and potentially inspirational.

“This is how it works, you can do it too,” Newton says. “Get some plywood and some books. You can make it happen.”

A person shops at the Bureau of General Services -- Queer Division bookstore on Tuesday.
A person shops at the Bureau of General Services — Queer Division bookstore on Tuesday. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Fast Facts:

  • All-time bestsellers include Audre Lorde’s "Sister Outsider" and Samuel Delany’s "Times Square Red, Times Square Blue." Current popular titles include Hugh Ryan’s "When Brooklyn Was Queer" and Kabi Nagata’s "My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness."
  • As more LGBTQ+ themed children’s books have been published in recent years, the shop’s children’s section (previously nonexistent) has naturally grown. Kids’ books about being different are also included in the selection.
  • Events are held at BGSQD several nights a week, including a gay men’s book club, author readings, storytelling and a monthly Poly Movie Night that celebrates ethical non-monogamy through film.
  • Volunteers interested in participating in BGSQD can email the shop to become more involved.

Melissa Kravitz