On Nov. 11, 1996, Outloud! Books and Gifts opened its doors to the Nashville community. Owner Ted Jenson originally envisioned offering a nice bookstore, coffee house, and a community center to the Middle-Tennessee area. Ten years later, Jenson and co-owner Kevin Medley are nearing the fulfillment of their vision. Jenson and Medley continue to own and operate a recently renovated bookstore and plan to open a new community center in the former Outloud! storefront just two doors down on Church Street.
In reference to the community center, Jenson says, "We feel there is a definite need for the center. Jim Hawk, an established GLBT community supporter, is working to form a board [of directors] for the new community center."
While the future of the existing coffee house, The Church Street Cafe, is uncertain, the space still supports a future cafe. R and D Productions, doing business as The Church Street Cafe, filed for bankruptcy on Nov. 7, 2006.
The Bookstore's Evolution: Ten Years Ago Versus Today
Much has changed since opening day in 1996.
According to Jenson, "Ten years ago people weren't buying online. Today the online and chain stores are our biggest competition. We are one of less than forty GLBT bookstores left in the country. We try to talk to our customers and tell them why it is important to support us [as opposed to buying online]. When they buy from their independent bookstore, like us, they circulate money back to the community."
Outloud! regularly gives to numerous local organizations such as The Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), Nashville CARES, and MTSU and UT Martin GLBT student organizations, to name a few.
The bookstore is evolving to enable its survival and future growth. Books were the primary sale item in the first few years, whereas DVDs are the top selling product category now. Additionally, Outloud! has become more "specialty-minded," carrying expanded gift lines, collectible holiday ornaments, and hard-to-find independent music artists.
What the Future Holds
Jenson sounded optimistic when asked about the future.
He shared, "In the near future we plan on having more in-store events, expanding both our music and gift lines. We will be promoting more our bimonthly e-mail newsletter. Customers can sign up by visiting our Web site at www.outloudonline.com or dropping by the store. We are also working on a frequent buyer program to start in 2007. While we don't have an e-commerce Web site available yet, we can order any book in print and generally receive it within a week. We can even mail the book to a different location, just as the online stores do."