Stirrup Pants Chapbook Store Opens on Cherokee Street


Stirrup Pants, St. Louis' -- and possibly the world's -- only chapbook consignment store opened at 2122 Cherokee Street last Saturday, July 18. It will be open every Saturday from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.

"I'm hoping this will foster conversation and collaboration," says Maggie Ginestra, Stirrup Pants' founder, proprietor and sole employee. And, no, she doesn't anticipate making a profit. That's not the point.

An assortment of chapbooks. - FLICKR.COM/PHOTOS/CAPABLEMOTION
  • An assortment of chapbooks.

Chapbooks have a long and honorable history, dating back to the early days of the printing press. Printers would publish poetry and broadsides and even novels on flimsy paper and sell them to the public for far less than the cost of bound books. Today chapbooks primarily exist as a medium to distribute poetry, though Ginestra says the form is growing to encompass prose, both fiction and non-fiction.

"I slowly started getting exposed to chapbooks as a graduate student at Washington University," explains Ginestra, who recently obtained an MFA in poetry. "I saw my friends reading them, but there was no place to buy them in town. Reading something online is not like reading it and holding it."

In February, Ginestra attended the Associated Writing Programs (AWP) conference in Chicago and pitched the idea of a chapbook store to some of the small publishers who were there selling their own chapbooks.

"There was so much enthusiasm," she recalls. "They were like, 'So you want to be a venue for our books, not make your own?' This made me think the idea could be viable. But I would have to structure my life around this, live above the shop, operate on a consignment basis."

The name Stirrup Pants was pure inspiration. "The word popped into my head," Ginestra remembers. "I wanted something kind of fun because poetry can seem awfully serious."

In May, with graduation approaching, Ginestra found the perfect space on Cherokee. "It was like a dream," she says. "The rent was reasonable. It's older, not fancy." She obtained the necessary city permits, an experience she calls "bizarre and hilarious," and decorated the shop and two reading/social rooms with donations from other artists around town. Then she e-mailed the chapbook publishers and asked if she could sell their books to the people of St. Louis.

Chapbook consignment works much like clothing consignment. Publishers throughout the country send Stirrup Pants copies of their books, usually two or three at a time. Once they sell, Ginestra sends them their share of the profits. "Every week we're going to feature a new press," she says.

The store's Saturday-only hours give Ginestra a chance to read through the new chapbooks during the week so she'll be able to discuss them with her customers. "I want it to feel like an event, a special time, not just a special place." The limited hours also well with her schedule; in the fall, she's going back to Wash. U. to get a masters in social work.

Last Saturday's grand opening featured many of Ginestra's friends, as well as a few strangers, who arrived with beer and rum, and the musical duo the Water Bears. This coming Saturday, she says, will be the store's first "real" day.

Ginestra envisions Stirrup Pants less as a retail operation than a community gathering place where people can come together. Mississippi Mud House, the store's across-the-street neighbor, will donate coffee, and Ginestra hopes to offer snacks as well, so customers will linger and start talking to one another.

"This is definitely inspired by other venues," she says, "like the Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center and CAMP, and some really neat spaces in Atlanta, like the Eyedrum." In Tallahassee, where she lived previously, Ginestra and some friends established a small theater that functioned as a community space, much as she hopes Stirrup Pants will.

"Anything can happen in a place like St. Louis," she says. "Things happen because people want them to happen."

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