Reading Frenzy: An interview with Chloe Eudaly
By Yariv Rabinovitch
Originally published in Plazm magazine, issue #17, 1998.
“Survey says, most customers veer to the right when they enter a store. So, if you’re a normal human being the first thing you’ll see is the politics and current events section.”
My tour of Reading Frenzy, Portland’s independent press emporium, has just started when Chloe, proprietress and guide, stops herself. “I was trying to decide if I wanted to give you a tour as is or pretend it was different.” Chloe moves things around a lot, maybe because they change meaning depending on what they’re next to, or nothing ever seems to have it’s perfect place. But it’s not just neurotic, it’s marketing. You’re bound to come across a magazine you’ve never looked at before, maybe a whole section you’ve ignored as you look for a favorite that’s moved. Smart, we decide not to pretend.
“Right next door to politics is smut and it’s smuts for all persuasions. Maybe a little friendlier than most adult sections. More silly than hardcore.”
To the left there’s the first book rack: “Our favorite sell-out section-zine publishers who signed book deals with major presses. I still think their books are good even though they’re not independently produced. So I ghettoize them in this section.”
Next to the sellouts we’ve got conspiracy theories and books with gory covers that fall under the headings true crime and extreme culture. “My least favorite section” Chloe says.
“So why bother?”
“I probably shouldn’t say that, huh?”
Chloe’s got a responsibility to live up to. “The primary purpose of Ready Frenzy is to provide a venue for the independent/alternative press. I end up carrying things that I don’t necessarily personally appreciate, I do understand the importance of this realm and to a certain degree I cater to the demands of my clientele. If they came in here demanding Spin or the Oregonian I’d tell them to go down the street. I’m just a little down on serial killers and rapists right now. It’s not my bag.”
We move on. “There’s the anarchists and anti-authoritarian section. Our Noam Chomsky selection. Poetry and literary stuff, philosophy and theory. This and that.”
Though publishers, magazines and book titles appear and disappear, launch and fold, there are enough of them that have been around for enough time for an independent press emporium to have a regular lineup of authors, titles and genres, that’s another reason to keep moving things around. To avoid calcification. Avoid pigeonholing.
We’ve arrived at Japanese stationary land, the pint of purchase impulse buys. “It’s sadly the best selling thing in the store.” I offer consolation by pointing out that correspondence is small press too. Ok, next.
“Architecture, art, design, grafitti. The tattoo magazines. And film. Almost all psychotronic and B-movies. Then music: Mostly indie rock but also rap, jazz, blues, country, and punk rock.”
We get to the zine section. “Reading Frenzy has developed a reputation as a zine shop. I guess that’s because we’re one of the few stores that give them any play at all. They make up less than one quarter of the inventory. I have a policy of taking any local zine, periodical or book on consignment. If it sells I keep stocking it. If not the publisher takes it back. I like providing that service. I think of this section as an information trading post.” There are also zines Chloe hand picks from all over. There’s a girl section, queer section. Some slicker zines, and a locals section though locals are mixed throughout.
Having grazed the pamphlet section, we’ve navigated the store’s perimeter and we turn to face the island of comics. Comics for mature readers. “They’re probably about 250 underground, alternative and self-published comics in this section. It’s the best selling section and it’s almost all adults who buy them. One section that’s disappeared from the store is the kid’s section. Independent publishers haven’t come up with material that will appeal to kids.
The store opened three and a half years ago and has changed as Chloe’s gone through the process of making sense of something when there’s no reference point for what it’s supposed to be. “Originally I had about 400 independent magazines and zines and a guilty pleasures section with about 30 mainstream magazines that I liked. I thought I would need to have something familiar on the racks for people to connect with when they walked in the store, but nobody bought them. I dropped them within a month.”
Chloe points to the sellouts: “I chose to carry these books because they’re relevant to the store and even though they’re from major publishing houses they’re still underrepresented. Al Hoff who did Thriftscore just had a book published by Harper Collins and they sent her on a tour of Borders. Most of her readers aren’t going to show up at Borders especially not in the middle of nowhere out in the suburbs. The retailers don’t know how to market the book. If it’s a decent book, relevant to the store and underrepresented elsewhere I consider carrying it. But since the primary concern of the store is to create a venue for independent media there’s not much point in me carrying anything that’s widely available”.
I wonder if there are any other rules. Though I’ve seen Chloe sitting behind the counter reading Vogue and Entertainment Weekly, she does have her standards. “I actually have lists of which media conglomerates own which publishing companies and which magazines and TV stations and radio stations and so on. But that changes all the time. Big Brother, the big Big Brother, the skate magazine that used to sell really well here was bought by Larry Flynt. I think Larry Flynt owns Larry Flynt and I would consider carrying his publications if they were good, but since they’re available at every newsstand, there’s not much point for me to carry them. So my definition of independent is probably broader than most people’s. It doesn’t necessarily mean black and white photocopies.”
Photocopied zines, some of them with hand colored pages, silkscreen covers, stickers stapled in and fold outs, do get out. “Most sell for 50 cents to 2 dollars and don’t exactly carry the store, but titles like dishwasher sell 500 copies of every issue, Cometbus sells over 100 copies, Craphound easily a couple hundred.”
Baffler, Bust, Dishwasher, Craphound and Stay Free are among the store’s best sellers and are pretty infrequent, not even quarterly. “That means I have to constantly be seeking out new titles and promoting the store so that more people will come in and buy the issue of Baffler that sits on the shelf for six months.”
Marketing isn’t the only reason why Chloe is so meticulous with the store. “I like to think people realize I have good intentions and that I’m providing a service to the community that people appreciate and support. This is like a little hub of activity among certain circles in this community. People meet here, hang out here, get to meet other publishers, their fans and readers. It’s not some store with a 20 minute browsing limit with a hostile environment. Sometimes I feel stressed or financial pressure to be more business minded or competitive with other stores and then I just try to remember how well I’ve done just doing things the way I’m doing them.”
The store’s approach seems to be party activism part ongoing art project. “I used to feel I had my little community to serve and a finite number of people who would be interested in this kind of material and I was resigned to preaching to the converted, but now I do feel frustrated by who I don’t see here.”
When I ask Chloe to name names she snaps back, “About 70% of my clientele are white males from the ages of 18 to 35. I don’t have any problem with them shopping here, it just seems so out of balance. I look up and I see a room full of men andthink where are all the women and girls? It’s always seemed like a little bit of a boys club, and I think boys and men just tend to do more…You know, collecting, cataloguing and wrapping it all up in protective plastic wrappers.”
Being a shopkeeper is an honorable profession and it’s nice to see that it’s not dead. By setting your own standards, if seems like maybe it’s actually possible to support yourself from within a community, without being accused of compromising it.
But Choe’s got more than just politics and art on her mind. “A friend of mine asked me to describe my dream date. The store is really an expression of who I am and a lot of my interests, right? So my dream person would be someone who walked through the store and was interested in all of it. Because the majority of my clientele just goes to one rack and one shelf and a few titles. They’re oblivious to the rest of it. Or it doesn’t fit into their aesthetic. They want Goth magazines, or they want graffiti magazines or they’re only into left wing politics. So that while their eyes are scanning the rack and they see Z and Whole Earth and Extra, they’ll see Ritual and Transgender and Tease.”
Chloe smiles, “So I found my dream person.
“He walked through the doors!?”
“No, I read an interview with him in Utne Reader in the section media diet. He’s in his 50’s he’s famous and he’s gay. So, I’m screwed. It’s John Waters. John Waters is my dream date. This is a while ago. I’ve been more interested in him than his films since I was a teenager. As a teenager I was really disturbed by his movies. But I read his books, and I loved him, and set about watching every film he recommended and reading the books and magazines that he read. I wanted to make a pilgrimages to Baltimore but that never happened. So in Utne Reader he listed off 60 magazines and zines that he reads. And almost all of them were of interest tome, or I read or I carried here. It was so exciting to see someone who reads Martha Stewart Living and Prison Life and Thriftscore. We could shop together.”