Red And Black Books: The Ties That Bound

At the final going-out-of-business fund-raising auction for Red and Black Books, there were stark anti-apartheid posters, pastoral paintings of Chinese peasants from the Cultural Revolution and vivid silk screens of revolutionary icon Che Guevara.

But it was Xena, the cardboard cutout of the TV's statuesque Warrior Princess, that was most eagerly anticipated by the crowd of Red and Black loyalists.

"Che still has his following, but these days Xena has more fans," said Nancy Shawn, who served as auctioneer for last night's fund-raiser.

Red and Black Books, started 26 years ago in the University District by a group of socialists and anarchists, formally closed its doors on Capitol Hill last Sunday, the latest local independent bookstore to fold. But an auction of store memorabilia, including its extensive collection of posters, was held to raise money to pay off the store's remaining debts.

Originally, the store was primarily a forum for progressive political ideas. But over the years, its focus broadened to include multicultural, feminist and gay and lesbian works largely ignored by mainstream bookstores.

Throughout its history, the store was run as a collective. During the 1980s, there were nearly 30 volunteers providing staffing and financial support, said Shawn, who was the store's main buyer.

But in the end, being a collective also proved to be a burden, preventing the store from responding more quickly to competition from giants like Barnes & Noble and Borders.

Rumors of its impending demise have circulated for years, but fund-raisers and collections kept it going.

At last night's event, more a gathering of old friends than a formal auction, the mood was largely festive.

"This is not just stuff," said Shawn, as she started the auction. "This is 26 years of memories, of movements, of social change, and of a great bookstore."

But while the audience gamely bid on the items, sharp emotions lingered just beneath the surface.

"You can thank the big chains for driving the stake into the heart of this bookstore," said Jamie Lutton, a longtime customer. "And you can thank all the customers who got their 10 percent discounts."

Red Reddick, a member of the collective for 16 years, said simply: "It's very hard to see this store close."

After an hour of auctioning posters, the bidders began getting restless.

"Go on to the Xena stuff!" came a shout from the back.

After a brief break, the tall cardboard cutout of the Warrior Princess in defiant stance soon ignited fierce bidding and counterbidding. But the momentum soon stalled and fizzled, and ultimately Xena fetched a disappointing $80 - more than Che, but less than expected.

In the end, not even Xena, Warrior Princess, could do much to rescue Red and Black.

Ferdinand M. de Leon's e-mail address is