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Charlie's Queer Books: Washington's all-LGBTQ+ bookstore

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Photo courtesy of Charlie's Queer Books
Photo courtesy of Charlie's Queer Books

On November 4, 2023, Charlie's Queer Books, originally a pop-up and online store, officially opened its doors in the Fremont neighborhood. Opening a brick-and-mortar location was a goal for owner and founder Charlie Hunts, who wanted "something that would fit the vibe as Queer but outside Capitol Hill."

"We feel lucky to have found a great location in the neighborhood we were looking for and be able to reach as many folks in Seattle as possible," he said.

Photo courtesy of Charlie's Queer Books  

"It's been great, of course. Opening in time for the holidays is always wonderful, and we were able to work out all of the kinks before the rush came," Hunts continued.

The store has successfully been open for two months, and the response from the Seattle community has been overwhelmingly positive. "It's been great to see what people are reading, what resonates with them, and how they feel about the space and get some of their input about how we can continue to grow throughout the next year," Hunts said. "It's been great to get that immediate feedback loop in such a positive and supportive way."

The most feedback he has received is that people are craving more Queer third spaces. "I think folks are hungry for events and places to gather that aren't based in nightlife," Hunts said. "So, if you're under 21, sober, if you just want something during the day, something more relaxed and casual, I think people are eager for that kind of space, and we have a chance to play our part in that. And events are one way to do that."

Photo courtesy of Charlie's Queer Books  

In fact, the question Hunts gets most from customers is about events. The store currently hosts several book clubs, though they're filling up fast. Charlie's Historical Fiction Book Club will meet on January 17 to discuss The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, and the Romance Book Club will meet on February 4 to discuss The Queer Principles of Kit Webb. (Readers can sign up to join any of the book clubs online at https://charliesqueerbooks.com/pages/events)

Hunt is also excited about upcoming community engagement nights. On the 24th, Charlie's will provide the hot glue, rhinestones, and googly eyes for "Shitty Craft Night." It also has several author events lined up for the new year. The first is a conversation with local Queer illustrators Teo Duvall and Levi Hastings.

"The few events that we have done so far in our short time being open, the response has been huge," Hunts said. "That just lets us know that we need to keep going down that path in providing a space for folks, a third place for Queer people."

Photo courtesy of Charlie's Queer Books  

Growing in all genres
Charlie's Queer Books is one of the first all-Queer bookstores in the US. "There are many bookstores that are Queer owned, but not very many that stock Queer books only. I think there's a handful — six at most, I would guess," Hunts said.

Everything at Charlie's is about LGBTQ+ topics or by LGBTQ+ authors. "By that, 98% of the authors in the store are Queer or identify as such, and the other 2% did representation well," Hunts explained.

"It's an either/or situation. So either the author is Queer, but perhaps the subject matter isn't — so for example, a cookbook — and then you also have Queer authors who are writing straight stuff, or straight authors who are writing Queer stuff. So it's either in the content or by the author."

While Charlie's Queer Books has only been open for two months, it has already grown far beyond its first few days. Today, it carries titles in nearly every genre.

"Our goal was to make a bookstore that is really like any other, where we have different genres and a large breadth of everything, from cooking and crafts to memoir and fiction, and it just happens to be by a Queer person or about Queer people," Hunts said.

"I think we have almost every genre at this point, including spirituality, which is pretty cool. [We have] different graphic novels, middle-grade, and children's books. We're filling it out pretty quickly. It's growing in size from when we first opened."

Now that the holidays have wrapped up, Hunts can confidently say Heartstopper has been one of the best sellers, along with anything by TJ Klune.

Photo courtesy of Charlie's Queer Books  

A safe place
Especially in this era when LGBTQ+ books have become so politicized, Hunts has been conscious of safety.

"I tried to take as many precautions as possible for the safety of our customers," Hunts said. "We coated the glass with a special film that would help against bullets, any break-ins, vandal situations, or graffiti. We installed several security cameras that are always running around the perimeter. We tried hard to ensure that if anyone wanted to harm the shop, folks would be as safe as possible."

"I was really prepared to get a blowback, but so far, there hasn't been any," he continued. Though Charlie's received some hate comments after a video showcasing it went viral, it has yet to experience the same vitriol other PNW Queer businesses have faced.

"We're trying our best to prepare, because we know it's not an 'if' but a 'when,'" Hunts said. "It's just too important to shy away from existence. That's the goal, right? With any bullying, you're trying to eradicate that group or that person from public life. That's why we started the store, in reaction to that."

Hunts hopes readers of all kinds can find their way to the store, check out the wide selection of books, and let him know what else they'd like to see.

"It's just about what the customer is looking for and how we can best support the Queer community as a third place while staying true to our vibe of a nice chill place where folks can relax and be themselves," Hunts said.

Charlie's Queer Books is open Wednesdays through Sundays at 465 N. 36th St.