Exploration is a vital and vigorous part of the college experience. You’re not under your parents’ roof. It’s time to see what’s out there. Wild Iris Books is a place to start finding out. Located between Midtown and downtown at 802 W University Ave., Wild Iris is one of the last remaining feminist bookstores in Florida. Opened in 1992, Wild Iris has established itself as not only a store but also as a community resource for artists and organizations looking for a supportive space. The store, in association with its sister nonprofit Friends of Wild Iris, has hosted open mic nights, workshops, discussion groups and art exhibits.
“We are always open to partnering with any groups,” said Erica Merrell, co-owner of Wild Iris Books.
Reading selections range from the less-corporate LGBTQ nonfiction, feminist thought and pagan options to health, cooking and general fiction. “We have everything a normal bookstore would have and then some,” Merrell said. “And if we don’t have it, we will order it for you with no shipping charges.”
Creating a haven where people can ask questions they may not be able to elsewhere is an essential aspect of the Wild Iris mission. It is important to the owners to suspend judgment and offer help. Customers are welcome to ask questions about anything, from gift ideas and decorating tips to organic hygiene products and earth-based spirituality.
“You’re not going to shock us,” Merrell said. “Nothing here is taboo.”
And while there are resources for gay students through LGBT Affairs at UF, Wild Iris offers additional resources.
In stock are books that can help gay students come out. There are also books that students can give to their families to foster understanding.
In light of recent tragedies involving bullying and suicide, books like “Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws” can be an important resource.
Other products take a lighter tone on the road to acceptance such as the bumper sticker that reads, “I don’t mind if you are straight, as long as you are gay in public.”
In the broader range of merchandise you’ll find items from candles and incense to art and sculpture to old-fashioned soda and herbal tea. And guys, this place isn’t just for women.
“We are not man-haters here,” said Cheryl Krauth, another co-owner of Wild Iris Books. “We love all of the men in our lives.”
And the men seem to appreciate Wild Iris as well. Merrell’s husband was the one who introduced her to the store when she relocated to Gainesville. Krauth’s son, who will turn 21 this month, spent most of his teenage years working at the bookstore.
“We want to help men see the feminine side that both men and women have,” Krauth said. “How else are we going to come together as a society and celebrate all of who we are?”
There is still is plenty to do to balance the gender issue, Krauth said. For example, women working full time earned on average 80 percent of what men were paid in 2008, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Krauth, a Gator since 1983 and currently an information technology professor at Santa Fe College, took over ownership of Wild Iris in 2004 after hearing a rumor at a party that the bookstore was closing. Unable to stop thinking about the possibility of the store being shut down, she was determined to help keep its doors open.
“It had such a unique character and was something we didn’t want to lose in the community,” Krauth said.
Merrell’s background is in corporate book sales, but she knew she wanted to spend her time at a place that she loved. After spending several years volunteering with Friends of Wild Iris, Merrell made the organization her full-time focus in 2009.
“When the opportunity for ownership came, it was perfect,” Merrell said. “I could remove the corporate and be a part of a place that made me feel good.”
An extension of the community feel can be found in the Wild Iris Cafe. With people to talk to and a selection of coffee, wine and beer, it’s a change of scenery from the typical library offerings.
“We all have this little voice that has questions,” Merrell said. “You can honor that. The only thing we don’t want here is disrespect. “For the Guys”