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Closing Time for Revolution Books

Jackie Young
Jackie Young
Jackie Young
Credit Jackie Young

A neighborhood bookstore in Honolulu’s neighborhood of M?‘ili‘ili will be closing down soon. It’s been part of the university community for nearly 40 years. The store's manager says it's because of financial pressures--but the enterprise isn't disappearing entirely.  Jackie Young has more on the changing times for a familiar store.

Revolution Books opened in 1976, near Tamashiro Market in Kalihi. Within 2 years, it moved to the university area and has been there ever since—specializing in a wide range of topics, including politics, feminism, religion and the environment.

Carolyn Hadfield is the bookstore’s general manager, and has been with the store for 38 years.  “The original mission was just to disseminate revolutionary literature. … But 1976 was very, very active still—there was a recession, the end of the Vietnam War, Cambodia, there was still a lot of upheaval.”

The bookstore changed with the times.  “… We have evolved with the revolutionary communist party, even though we’re not a part of it.  … And as that has changed, we have changed as well, and really broadened our scope to have a lot more book readings, a lot more book engagement.”

She says "With all the extremes that are coming out of this presidential election, are these books even more pertinent?”  “I think much more. … I think people are way too smart, and they recognize this is not what they want, but there’s nothing else out there.  We want to get out an analysis—what’s fundamentally driving the system, what are the economics, what are the cultural questions—all of it.”

The co-op on the 2nd floor of University Square also covers more diverse topics, such as science fiction and poetry. And it brings in speakers, so the bookstore has become a gathering place for the community.

Hadfield has seen a resurgence in the popularity of hard-copy books, but the financial challenges of running a brick-and-mortar location have taken their toll on the all-volunteer staff, especially after being told their current building is being demolished.  “In larger cities, bookstores are closing down because of the huge financial problems.  In smaller towns, it seems bookstores are actually opening in some areas, as both social areas and for books—gathering places, which is what we have been.”

Cynthia Franklin has been using Revolution Books for more than 20 years in teaching her English classes at UH, as well as for her personal interests.  “I think it’s an enormous loss, given the lack of independent bookstores, and … as I’ve been saying it’s a place to meet for people who are interested in ideas, and interested in why ideas matter in the world.”

The storefront’s last day will be Oct. 20, but they plan to continue as a “pop-up” in different locations around the island. They also plan to expand their online presence....at revolutionbookshonolulu.org.

Jackie Young is the local host of Weekend Edition.
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