White Rabbit, which for nearly two decades has been the communal and commercial heart of queer Raleigh, has pulled up stakes from its well-known retail space at 309 W. Martin St. and moved to a temporary location. It was a short trek, though — right next door to 307 W. Martin St., which already houses Stuff Consignment.
The two businesses will share space until White Rabbit moves into its new permanent digs this summer. The address of the final destination remains under wraps pending completed lease negotiations.
[Ed. Note — Q-Notes publisher Jim Yarbrough and this writer co-own the White Rabbit chain.]
Former owner John Neal opened Raleigh’s “gay and lesbian everything store” in 1991, six years after establishing the now-closed flagship store in Greensboro. The Charlotte store trailed Raleigh by a little more than a year.
Neal was already running a successful mail-order calligraphy business in Greensboro when in 1984 he decided to sell a selection of gay and lesbian books out of his work space.
“The building was being renovated by two lesbians and they encouraged me to carry gay and lesbian books for sale, and I did. It grew from that,” he told Q-Notes. “The calligraphy was all mail order and the gay books were all retail.”
When Neal was ready to expand into a second market, he settled on Raleigh. He said the decision to set up shop on Martin St. in the city’s warehouse district was prompted in part by the presence of popular gay nightclub Capital Corral (now known as The CC) one block away and the area’s relatively low rent prices.
Another critical factor in the decision was that “the landlord was willing to accept a gay and lesbian bookstore,” Neal said. “That was very much an issue, of owners not wanting to rent to a gay and lesbian store.”
In addition to offering Triangle patrons a wide range of LGBT books, magazines, cards and gift items, White Rabbit quickly became a crucial community resource for disseminating news and publicizing events. The store’s massive bulletin boards teemed with flyers trumpeting this fundraising event or that organization.
Further cementing the establishment’s local ties, then-store manager Jim Baxter produced his popular, long-standing LGBT newspaper The Front Page out of the store’s back room for about a decade until the publication merged with Q-Notes in 2006.
“White Rabbit has been intricately woven into the fabric of the Triangle LGBT community for nearly two decades now,” said store co-owner Jim Yarbrough. “This relationship is greatly valued and our highest concern is nurturing it to become even stronger. While negotiations are ongoing at this time, we are very excited about the possibilities of the permanent move we’re planning. If all goes as expected, by mid-summer we’ll be serving the region better than ever before.”
When asked for any final remarks, Neal pointedly told Q-Notes, “In many cities larger than Raleigh, the gay and lesbian stores are no longer there. Raleigh has a resource that many cities don’t have anymore. Everyone should go into the new location and shop to make sure it stays around.”