This Feminist Intersectional Bookstore Is Building Community in Norfolk—Whether Capitalism Likes It or Not

by | Aug 3, 2023

Tucked underneath a coffee shop off Colley Avenue sits Eleanor’s, a self-described “intersectional feminist bookstore and bottle shop” that is aiming to foster change both locally and beyond.

Norfolk Currents sat down with founder Erin to chat about her vision for the space and how Eleanor’s is trying to “redistribute power” in a capitalist society seemingly hellbent on concentrating it.

Erin explains that she was inspired to open Eleanor’s in 2020, when the pandemic allowed her to step off the relentless treadmill of work to engage in some deep reflection about the systemic problems in our society. Issues like inequality, racism, housing insecurity, and more smacked her in the face.

“It just didn’t make sense the way that we do things. The things that we prioritize as a society,” she told me.

Rather than going back to business as usual, Erin decided to open a bookstore focused on highlighting marginalized voices and spurring thought about radical change. But she didn’t want to just replicate the capitalist business structure that she sees as part of the problem.

“Workers should own where they work and make decisions that affect what is so much of their life and livelihood,” says Erin.

So she’s transitioning Eleanor’s into a worker cooperative, where employees also own and manage the business. Erin believes this egalitarian approach creates space for more perspectives when making decisions.

Beyond selling books, Eleanor also hosts intersectional feminist book clubs, partners with local mutual aid networks, and has a “Period Pantry” on the porch offering free menstrual products, no questions asked. The goal is to build community interdependence and empowerment from the ground up.

“It’s truly just about communicating with one another and engaging in a real human way,” Erin emphasizes.

Whether a conscious business model like Eleanor’s can thrive within the confines of capitalism remains to be seen. But Erin is committed to imagining an alternative, even if existing structures don’t like it.

“It’s just imagination. It’s just being able to look and see a flat surface and what could be built upon it,” she muses.

As corporations and governments seem increasingly incapable of solving society’s most pressing problems, perhaps we could use a little more radical imagination. Eleanor’s is dreaming big—not just with books, but with action.

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