PROVINCETOWN – Michelle Axelson has three weeks to come up $200,000 if she wants to keep Womencrafts open.
For 46 years, the store has been a mainstay in Provincetown. Owners have come and gone over the years, but they have all been women who identify as lesbians, feminists and supporters of the LGBTQI+ community. The store’s mission has been to showcase and sell books, art, music and jewelry created by women.
Axelson, the fifth owner, said the store serves an important function providing a safe space for women and the LGBTQ+ community, as well as empowering that community.
From one wall hang Jo Hay’s huge paintings of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Kamala Harris, Stacy Abrams, Megan Rapinoe, Amanda Gorman and others. Mugs, t-shirts and cards with clever, edgy feminist sayings can be bought, as can music and books by and about women.
Shoppers can find Rachel Maddow votive candles, rainbow stickers and jewelry. Even tea towels carry slogans like, “Shuck oysters and the patriarchy,” “Root for women” and “Culinary Goddess.”
“Womencrafts is a landmark in Provincetown,” said Carolyn Kramer, a gallerist who is married to Hay. “It’s as much a landmark as the history of the Pilgrims landing here. It’s the first queer, feminist, lesbian-owned bookstore. It’s been part of the soul and fabric of Provincetown.”
Womencrafts’ building up for sale
Axelson is facing a tough challenge. The unit that houses the store is going up for sale. Axelson has until Aug 1 to come up with a $200,000 down payment, or it will be placed on the market. She said the owner, Kathryn Livelli, a previous owner of Womencrafts, is retiring and wants to sell the property for $700,000.
Axelson has turned to GoFundMe and the local, national and global community for help.
Jeff Peters, the owner of East End Bookstore, has helped her. Peters organized a GoFundMe campaign when the pandemic shut down his business in 2020, and more recently when he bought the building in January 2022.
Peters said he had to move quickly. He was nervous because of the rising real estate prices and he wasn’t finding any property available in the price range or location he required. GoFundMe was a place where he could get his story out to a wide audience
“GoFundMe was good to raise awareness and money,” Peters said. “We had people who knew about us and a range of people who didn’t.”
Shop owner turns to crowdsourcing
Axelson is hoping for similar results. As of Monday she has raised more than $120,000 towards a $200,000 goal. She was reluctant to crowdsource until she had spoken with Peters.
“As hard as it is to ask for help, it gave me an outreach to a global community,” she said of the GoFundMe platform.
The message is crucial to fundraising success, Peters said. He said Womencrafts’ story is compelling.
Crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe have been popular with business owners, entrepreneurs, and the general public in recent years. According to Statista, the success rate of fully funding a project on the crowdfunding website was more than 39% in April 2022. More than $6 billion has gone into successful project launches.
Crowdfunding success builds on accessible technological trends, and the internet with its worldwide reach. The numbers tell the story: According to Fundera, a financial resources site, $17.2 billion is generated yearly through crowdfunding in North America.
Funds raised through crowdfunding grew 33.7% last year. There were 6,455,080 worldwide crowdfunding campaigns last year.
Peters calls the messages of support left by contributors equally important and encouraging, saying they helped him persevere.
Axelson wants Womencrafts to remain a physical and emotional center where women can be who they are without fear or shame. But the realities of the real estate market and women’s earning power vis-a-vis men’s make it tough.
In May 2022, the median home price in Provincetown was $1.2M, an increase of 35% from 2021, according to Realtor.com.
“When a woman sells in Provincetown, another woman doesn’t buy,” Axelson said.
“We’ve watched LGBTQIA+ spaces close in alarming numbers around the country,” Axelson wrote on her GoFundMe page. “We do not want to join them. To ensure Womencrafts’ legacy of making the world a safer, more welcoming place for the most marginalized among us, we need YOU.”
Womencrafts is a ‘safe zone’
When Womencrafts opened in 1976, Kramer was 16 years old. She snuck in without her parents’ knowledge. It was the first time she was able to look at books that were about people like her, she said. To see yourself, or someone similar to you in a book, was powerful, she said.
“People from all over world come to Womencrafts,” Kramer said. “Recently a 60-year-old woman came in and told Michelle, she was gay. It was the first time she told another human. Womencrafts gave her a safe zone.”
Provincetown resident Tracy Kachtick-Anders grew up in Texas and it wasn’t until she was in her late 20s before she found a gay bookstore in another state. She calls Provincetown’s lesbian-owned Womencrafts especially important.
“I was so excited I could see myself in the books,” she said. “People feel comfortable in Womencrafts.”
Kramer, Peters and Kachtick-Anders are adamant that Womencrafts stays in town and thrives. When Kachtick-Anders takes her children for walks, the store is a destination spot. Kramer said the store can’t go, calling that scenario “unacceptable.”
“There’s no way we want to see them move,” Peters added. “I know she can do it.”
Contact Denise Coffey at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @DeniseCoffeyCCT.