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Outwards Books: The only LGBTQ bookstore in Milwaukee shares its challenge to stay open

Posted at 6:42 PM, Jun 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-09 19:42:04-04

MILWAUKEE — On a quiet street at the corner of Murray Avenue and Park Place lies a hidden gem called Outwards Books. It’s the one and only LGBTQ bookstore in Milwaukee.

Its owned by Carl Szatmary who, nearly three decades ago, opened the store with his then business partner on a hot July summer day in 1993.

"I had 13 cases of books that got delivered the day that we opened and it was crazy and wild and a lot of fun," said Szatmary.

After working for Webster’s Bookstore in the early 90s in the LGBTQ section, Szatmary, an openly gay man, was inspired to run a primarily queer bookstore of his own. He hoped to give customers a place to freely be who they are.

"I’ve been friends with a number of librarians over the years and gay books are among the most stolen and that’s because people are embarrassed to buy them," said Szatmary.

He has everything from gay and lesbian fiction novels, to coming out literature, LGBT mysteries, and more.

"Immediately knew that this was a place where I didn’t have to try and act straight. I knew that this was a place where I could just be natural," said longtime customer, Larry Wheelock.

Wheelock has been a customer for almost 29 years. And says places like Outwards Books are a safe haven for people young and old.

"They don’t have to worry about what the clerks going to say to them when they bring something up to the counter, they don’t have to worry about if someone’s going to judge them for what they are buying," said Wheelock.

But as the popularity of online retailers and e-books grows, Szatmary says keeping his business up and running is getting tough.

"We are reliant on people who still like to have a printed book in their hand."

That's why there’s such a push to keep places like this that have already done so much for the LGBTQ community alive.

"It becomes more and more difficult to run a niche bookstore like this, but I think that just makes the need for them even greater," said Wheelock.

"I would encourage people to stop in and see what we are all about," said Szatmary.

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