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Online bookstore offers support for local queer community: The Sunflower

The shuffling of a child’s feet signals that it’s time for school. Once you leave, it’s time to organize your book orders and catch up on homework. When their schedule permits, they can also make time for their own personal writing.

WSU students Alex and Lilith Tackett balance parenting and owning an online bookstore, Sapphic Sweets and Reads, together.

Lilith, indecisive, is overwhelmed with her responsibilities, but not necessarily in a bad way. “I definitely didn’t expect to be a mom, let alone married and with a business, before I turned 30,” Lilith said.

Alex invests some of his time on campus in studying sociology.

“I’m looking to continue WSU’s graduate sociology program and research queer communities in America and Japan, especially overlapping online queer communities,” Alex said. “I’d also like to do a general survey of less-studied gender identities.”

The trans lesbian couple has lived together in Wichita and have been running their small business since it opened in May 2022. The store’s online shelves feature queer-focused works in an effort to support creators and their community’s readers. They work with smaller publishers and value authors who aren’t supported by mainstream bookstores.

“So many small authors go unnoticed or unappreciated by larger publishing houses for a variety of reasons, and we wanted to give these authors a place to be in print,” Lilith said. “It’s also incredibly worth hearing how happy it makes people to have a physical copy of their hard work in their hands after so long.”

Their shop includes just under a hundred reading options, gift cards for their business, and links to each of their personal works (Alex, Lilith).

“Getting the first test copy of our Emptied Spaces anthology has been an incredibly awesome experience,” said Lilith. “Seeing my work in a published and printed book was [also] Great.”

They both discovered their love for writing separately while engaging in RPGs through forums and games. Since then, they’ve enjoyed creating characters and describing worlds in their work, as well as exploring the writing experience in general. Nyri’s stories inspire Lilith to write about her, and Alex reaches out to the Empty Spaces writing community for ideas.

“Lately, classes and life events have been interrupting my writing, so I’ve slowed down to about once a week,” Lilith said. “Writer’s block is a constant problem, although I’ve found talking things through with friends and/or a ton of caffeine is helpful for breaking it.”

Recently, the couple has introduced new services offered in their shop such as editing and publishing. For the time being, they only offer these services to “authors who have contacted us (and) are only the ones close to us at the moment”. They also offer authors to contact them directly to feature their work in their online store and suggest using Twitter messaging for faster response.

Despite surviving the daily and weekly challenges of commitments and responsibilities, the couple is continuing and using the profits from their business to support their family and other creators.

“Financing is probably the hardest part. I wish we could operate without it, but business is our way of paying bills and food,” Lilith said. “Otherwise, I would probably point out the difficulty of advertising and just getting known. When people know about us, they buy books, but that’s the hard part to know.”

Sapphic Sweets and Reads uses Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr platforms to advertise and introduce their business to potential customers and people in their shared communities.

“Tumblr is extremely queer and has a really good community that we love getting feedback from,” Alex said.

Lilith said, “Every time we post ads on Tumblr, the communities we’re trying to appeal to seem to really like us and it’s gotten a fair amount of traffic. It helps our target audience overlap a lot with the rest of the Tumblr community, mainly queer people.”

As long as people continue to buy books, the couple hope to one day own a traditional physical bookstore in Wichita. This will allow for a safe gathering space for the LGTBQ+ community of all ages and an opportunity to have more work printed.

“For the store, I would like to have a physical storefront so that I can provide the community in the city with a safe place to go that isn’t a bar or a club or any other variety of loud, adult-oriented places,” Lilith said. “I like bars as much as the girl next door, but having quiet places is nice.”

The two are looking for locations to potentially open in Riverside or downtown Douglas Strip when the time and funding are right.

“I really want to see the queer community have a more established selection of companies to go to,” Alex said. “Queer friendly businesses are great and I appreciate our allies helping us on that front, but there’s nothing like having a queer business, run by queer people for queer people.”

When on campus, the couple can turn to the Sociology and Spectrum department for a comfort zone for the queer community, especially students at WSU or others on campus.

“It’s great to chat with Spectrum and while I’ve been too busy to go to their events, it’s great to be able to chat in their Discord,” Lilith said. “As far as campus goes, if I had to point to one place I spend the most time that has ‘this is a queer space’ vibes, it’s the sociology department.”

In Kansas’ largest city, there are few areas where queer communities can find safe havens. As Lilith mentioned earlier, a large amount of available spots are more focused on adults (that is, 18 to 21 years of age or older), and this reduces support spaces the most in Wichita.

“Wichita’s queer community is larger than I think any of us believe, and it’s disheartening to see my younger peers fear for their safety and acceptance in the city,” Lilith said. “Rightly so, in many cases, but I want to help build a place where they can feel safe and don’t have to be afraid to be visibly queer.”

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