The White Rose is more than a social justice bookstore.
The White Rose bookstore was empty save for the group of eight meeting together at the circular table at the front of the store. “Oh, sorry,” I stammered, surprised. “I don’t mean to interrupt. I didn’t know you were having a meeting.”
“That’s all right,” said Betty Kaplowitz, walking over to greet me. “This just kind of happened.”
Happy to browse for a bit, I waited a few minutes while those in attendance—two folks from the mayor’s office, the rest community members eager to help plan Holyoke’s upcoming gay pride parade—finished their impromptu discussion.
The books that decorate the storefront window at 284 High St., and the politically progressive titles that line its shelves, indicate that the White Rose is indeed a bookstore. But based on my visit to the downtown Holyoke shop, it is clearly more than just a place to stock up on the latest radical social justice titles.
Art covers the walls at the White Rose, poetry slam events dot its calendar, and a coffee stand offering Dean’s Beans seems to encourage contemplation and conversation. Kaplowitz notes that there is no wireless service in the store. “I want people to talk to each other,” she says.
Over the course of our hour-long, intermittently interrupted conversation, Kaplowitz was visited several times by various community members, all of whom talked about the pride parade and other neighborhood concerns. No one asked about a book. Two attendees from the meeting sat with us while we talked, and were there after I left.
The White Rose opened just before Christmas this past winter. Kaplowitz, along with Kristen Bachler, owns the entire building, and the two live in an apartment above the store.
Bachler and Kaplowitz moved to the Valley five years ago from Nevada, where Bachler served as mayor of their small town. Years before that, Kaplowitz marched in San Francisco’s first gay pride parade. “There were only 30 people in the march,” she tells me.
Bachler says she proposed the idea of having Holyoke’s first gay pride march, to complement this year’s raising of the gay pride flag, scheduled for Friday, June 6. “I had thought it would just be a small sidewalk event to keep the issues in view and to celebrate progress so far,” Bachler said in an email before we met, “but now there is backlash as well as keen interest, so who knows what will happen?”
A May 27 Springfield Republican article reporting on the proposed parade led to a string of negative online comments criticizing Holyoke’s openly gay mayor, Alex Morse, for politicizing his homosexuality. Later that day, Bachler responded on White Rose’s Facebook page, saying the parade was her idea, not Mayor Morse’s.
“This event was not created or promoted by the Mayor,” Bachler wrote. “I decided it would be good to augment the very quiet flag raising which has taken place for the past three years… [and] that Holyoke should celebrate our full diversity instead of being happy to hide some of it. I had no idea it would generate the enthusiasm that it has. I am astounded and it tells me that the people here also want to be visible members of their city.”
Interest in the parade continued to grow online. The White Rose has 500 Facebook followers, Kaplowitz says, but its post suggesting a gay pride parade was seen by 1,500 viewers.
They had tapped into a “huge, flamboyant, queer community,” one of the meeting’s attendees told me.
What role that community plays in Holyoke, let alone the rest of the Valley, remains to be seen. But it seems certain the White Rose will be involved.
(Originally appeared in the Valley Advocate.)