Wild Iris: Not Just a Bookstore, But a Revolution
As the only feminist bookstore in all of Florida, Wild Iris plays an influential role in the activist community of Gainesville.
Nestled in downtown Gainesville between the Civic Media Center and Citizens Co-Op, Wild Iris has a spacious courtyard that ties stores with similar missions together.
Feminist bookstores have a long history in Gainesville. The first one, Women Unlimited, opened up in 1974 during second-wave feminism which broadened the debate over women’s rights to include issues like marital rape and domestic violence. Women Unlimited was partially funded by the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act which funded job training. When someone reported that Women Unlimited was used by activists as a place to plan protests and demonstrations, funding was withdrawn.
The owners sold the bookstore and it was renamed Amelia’s after Amelia Earhart who was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic. During this time, Amelia’s brought diverse literature to Gainesville. After nearly a ten year hiatus, Wild Iris opened in 1992 to fill the void.
From various community outreach programs to open mic nights, Wild Iris helps foster a revolutionary change showcasing trans, queer, disabled and people of color’s voices through their art, music, books and poetry.
Wild Iris hosts “Free Store,” one of its many community outreach programs, which provides clothing and toiletries for the trans and queer people and people between housing and with special needs once a month. It started off with only two picnic tables of items, but it has grown significantly with enough donations to fill up the Civic Media Center. The last Free Store assisted about 80 different community members in need.
Erica Merrell, a co-owner, is the face of Wild Iris. She runs the store with the help of dedicated volunteers and interns who donate their time. Merrell began volunteering at Wild Iris shortly after moving to Gainesville in 2004, and she became a co-owner in 2009. One of her mantras is “to live from a place of compassion” which she has tied into the programs offered at Wild Iris.
“It is a safe space,” said Merrell.
A safe space means that ideas, thoughts and feelings can be discussed without the threat of hate speech. Wild Iris gives a space for often marginalized communities to connect, grow and flourish in the city of Gainesville.
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