A queer little bookstore is coming to Salt Lake City! Under the Umbrella, helmed by Kaitlyn Mahoney, hopes to open in time for Pride Month. Considering they’ve already surpassed their Indiegogo fundraising goal of $50,000, that dream is well on its way to becoming a reality (but don’t let that stop you from donating!). Their website asserts that a “bookstore can be a place of refuge, a place of validation and celebration…” and we couldn’t agree more, which is why we here at peculiar are sponsoring a bookshelf of our own. We sat down with Mahoney, the dynamo behind this project, to learn more about their vision for the business.
What inspired “Under the Umbrella” and the Indiegogo campaign?
Opening a bookstore has always been a dream of mine. I’m actually a copyeditor—that’s my day job and has been since I graduated from college. One of the things I love about being an editor is helping other people tell their stories in compelling, accessible ways and I think opening a bookstore is another way of doing that. I’m really excited to be in a position to connect queer authors with queer readers and others who need to hear their stories.
I was able to save up a good amount of money to fund a lot of the startup costs, but building an inventory of books is expensive. I considered applying for a small business loan, but it didn’t feel right for the type of space that I want to create. This is a queer community space, not a space owned by a bank. Starting an Indiegogo to help raise money for the opening inventory was a way to make this a community space that more people can be invested in and help direct.
What do you hope to accomplish with this project?
Our goal with Under the Umbrella is threefold: sharing and celebrating LGBTQIA+ books, providing a space for queer people to gather and build community, and offer a means of livelihood to marginalized members of the community.
Because we are focused on LGBTQIA+ books, that means that we can stock every kind of queer book imaginable: Queer books with messy queer characters and happy queer characters and the entire range of gender and sexuality represented.
Beyond the books, Under the Umbrella is meant to be a space to experience queer community together. We’ll be offering a little free library, a community pantry, a (small) free gender-affirming closet, space to write letters of support to incarcerated queer folks, a reading nook, a community book recommendation shelf, and space for writing groups, book clubs, poetry readings, and more.
Queer folks also experience higher rates of unemployment, and we’ve been affected more during the pandemic than our heterosexual peers. Ultimately, I want to hire additional queer booksellers to work in the store. I’m committed to a $15/hour minimum wage, which means it will take me a while to be able to afford paying another employee. In the meantime, we’re stocking books and other items by queer authors, artists, and makers. If you’re a queer artist of any kind and you’d like to stock something in the store, reach out! We can figure out a consignment or wholesale arrangement, and I’d love to showcase your work.
Ultimately, we hope to create a safe space for queer people where they can be in communion with themselves and their community.
Tell us about yourself: Why a bookstore? Why Salt Lake?
I’m queer and Salt Lake City is queer, and I love queer people so much! We deserve love and validation and safety, and unfortunately a lot of us don’t have those things in many areas of our lives. I wanted to help create a space made specifically for all queer people to be safe and be seen. I needed—and still need—a space like this, where we can just be ourselves surrounded by queerness.
When I started reading more queer books specifically, I realized how difficult it was to go to a traditional bookstore and identify which books had queer content or were written by queer authors, unless I already knew a book was queer or it was in a queer-specific section of the store. Reading about queerness was transformative for me. It impacted how I saw myself and my community, and it was frustrating not knowing whether my identity was going to be acknowledged or validated in any particular book.
The publishing industry has been doing a lot better recently, but the industry and what it publishes is still overwhelmingly white, cisgender, heterosexual, and nondisabled. General bookstores don’t necessarily have the capacity or desire to prioritize these stories. The plan at Under the Umbrella is to really flip the traditional prioritization hierarchy on its head and bring these stories to the forefront so that what in other places might be an afterthought is really the focus for us: stories by and about QTPOC, disabled queers, fat queers, identities that are often left out of the conversation even within the queer community, like aromantic, asexual, and intersex identities.
What’s something we haven’t asked that you want to tell us about the campaign and the bookstore?
I may be the one opening the store, but so many people have come together to make this happen. I’m personally dedicated to making the store a success, but I know it’s going to succeed because of the dedication of the community as a whole. So many people have reached out and said how incredible a space like this would have been for themselves when they were younger and how necessary it still is. I’m humbled and excited to be part of making this a reality.
I also want to acknowledge that while we don’t know for sure where the bookstore will be located, if it is in Salt Lake City, it will be on Goshute, Shoshone, Paiute, and Ute land. I would love to work with a Native artist on a land acknowledgement for the store to recognize the traditional stewards of the land that we are on.
What are all the ways fans and allies can support Under the Umbrella?
Continue to donate and share the Indiegogo campaign! We just passed our original $50,000 goal, but all the money we raise will continue to go toward building our inventory. More books means more diversity and more representation that we are able to provide!
While we’re looking for a physical retail space, you can buy books through our Bookshop.org link. If you purchase through our link (check to make sure our logo is in the top left corner of the page!), we get a 30% commission. If you prefer audiobooks, you can shop through our Libro.fm link, which also supports independent bookstores. We also have a HummingbirdDM link, which has ebooks and audiobooks.
We also appreciate your book recommendations, and your recommendations for queer artists and makers to stock in the store.