Little Gay Shop opens in East Austin with art, books and big dreams
Editor's note: This story was originally published on July 20, 2020.
On Airport Boulevard, there’s something queer happening inside a shipping container.
When you enter, you’ll see T-shirts that say things like “Gay & Tired.” You’ll find LGBTQ stories told in every book and magazine, more than you’d probably find in the couple of shelves reserved for the genre in a mainstream bookstore. Justin Galicz and Kirt Reynolds love queer culture so much that they opened a whole store dedicated to it, the Little Gay Shop, during a pandemic. After several months of pop-ups and online sales, they opened their physical location this month.
Galicz and Reynolds moved to Austin two years ago from New York City. The pair met in 2014 in Florida — on Tinder, Galicz says with a smile. He was interning at the Orlando Sentinel. Reynolds, living in NYC, happened to be in the area at the time. They hit it off and did the long distance thing for a while.
“We racked up a lot of miles,” Galicz says.
After he graduated from the University of Florida, Galicz packed his bags and moved to New York to be with Reynolds. The two entered a domestic partnership in 2017. But after 11 years in the big city, Reynolds found himself tired and burned out. Needing a change, the couple headed to Austin. They got married here last fall.
In New York, Galicz says, they were “constantly surrounded by queer culture.” Magazines at bodegas. Pop-ups everywhere. A gay bar for every tribe and taste. And though Galicz says Austin is pretty LGBTQ-friendly, neither of them saw quite the wealth of distinct queer spaces and wares that they had come to cherish.
And so, the couple started doing pop-ups, selling creations by and for queer people. They did the first one at St. Elmo Brewery during Austin Pride last year, to coincide with the release of a beer named after the city’s most famous gender-bender, the late Leslie Cochran.
More pop-ups followed, at events such as monthly Drag Bingo at St. Elmo and the PooPoo Platter drag show at Elysium. The pair launched their web store. But their dream was always to open a physical space, Galicz says.
“In our current political climate, one of the most radical things we can do is be visible,” he says, adding that anti-LGBTQ hate crimes are still a scourge in the community. “Opening a physical spot is a way to do that.”
The couple also wanted to create a queer community space not centered on alcohol and partying — not that there’s anything wrong with those, Galicz is quick to point out, but there was a niche to be filled. During the pandemic, with LGBTQ bars closed for the second time as cases of COVID-19 surge across the state, those community spaces are even harder to come by.
The shipping container was a recent stroke of “freak luck,” Galicz says. While Reynolds was furloughed from his other job as a retail manager, he found an online listing for the space and emailed the property managers immediately.
The couple “fell in love,” Galicz says. “It fits our needs for the moment.”
Before opening, they spent about six weeks getting set up. There were trips to Ikea. Galicz’s mom came to town to help put finishing touches on the space. They needed to get a sign made and move their products into the store.
But again, this was all happening in the middle of a pandemic.
“It’s been hard,” Galicz says. “It’s been challenging.”
“Coronavirus is a very serious threat that we take very seriously,” Reynolds says. “We are implementing as many practices as we can to ensure safety and social distancing.”
Like all businesses, the Little Gay Shop’s owners have had to pivot out of precaution. They’re playing it pretty safe, too. Right now, only two customers are allowed in the store at a time, and they take reservations for shopping times. The door is left open for air flow. Lots of hand sanitizer, lots of wipe downs. The store does local delivery and pickup. “People can still shop if they don’t want to come into the space,” Galicz says.
Still, with the challenges of the pandemic, the couple think a space like theirs is more important than ever. Galicz points out that with South by Southwest canceled this year, music and event venues shut down and gatherings for pop-up markets off the table, artists need a way to get their work into the world. They also need money.
“People in the art field, there’s always been an expectation to do things for free,” Galicz says, “especially if you’re queer or POC. It’s vital for our artists to be compensated for their work and their time.”
And Reynolds says giving Austinites access to queer reading material is important to him.
“We've worked hard to build a collection of rare, one-of-a-kind books and magazines that you can't find in Austin, in Texas or some even in the U.S.,” he says of publications such as Candy, Butch Is Not a Dirty Word, Brunch Club and LSTW.
The Little Gay Shop has big dreams. Galicz and Reynolds have a lot next to the container storefront. Eventually, they want it to host markets, comedy shows and movie screenings. They know the power of being surrounded by people like yourself when that can be hard to come by. They’d love to spread across the country, as well as open up bookshops and coffee shops with the “Little Gay” brand.
But for right now, the shop has just two employees — its owners. Or three, if you count Gus the shop dog, a Shih Tzu/toy poodle mix. Reynolds, who’s also a freelance photographer, takes the lead on the shop’s books and magazines. Galicz, a graphic designer by trade, curates the prints, pins, patches and apparel.
Galicz says they’re always striving to better spotlight artists of color and those who are transgender, disabled or otherwise “speak to a different experience” from that of the shop’s owners. The couple recently watched “Milk,” the 2008 movie about Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay elected officials in the U.S. Galicz says the film reminded them that major strides in LGBTQ rights — same-sex marriage, employment discrimination protection — happened very recently. “There’s still so much more fight to do,” he says, mentioning anti-LGBTQ laws still on the books in places such as Texas.
“It’s imperative for us to be fighting for the entire queer community,” Galicz says.
Listen to Eric Webb talk about the Little Gay Shop on Austin360 Radio: