Life on the fringe isn't easy

FringeWare, a bookstore and Web site devoted to the obscure and alternative, must close up shop, but aims to keep selling its wares.

Published June 22, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Living on the fringe isn't easy

There's one thing you can say about the obscure: It isn't lucrative. Just ask FringeWare, the 7-year-old Austin, Texas, bookstore whose main offering is titles by authors who have been "marginalized or forgotten by contemporary mass media culture." The store -- which has also served as a community center, performance space and playground -- announced last week that it's shutting its doors at the end of June.

FringeWare's headquarters, long a mecca for geeks, freaks, hackers, zinesters and intellectual deviants in general, is currently clearing off the bookshelves and selling the entire stock at reduced prices. If you are looking for a bargain copy of "Neuromancer" or a back issue of Fortean Times, now's the time for one last pilgrimage to the Texas capital.

FringeWare's employees and contributors are blaming the store's demise on competition from and the Barnes & Noble store that opened up down the street last year; others have pointed out that FringeWare was, well, too obscure -- and a bit too far from downtown to boot.

FringeWare also maintains a Web site, an online bookstore and a quarterly periodical called the FringeWare Review. Although the Web site is currently in a state of disrepair and the online bookstore is unavailable, FringeWare store manager Scot Casey asserts that these will be fixed after the store closes. "The initial idea was to close the store and not to go into bankruptcy so we wouldn't have to close down altogether and shut down the magazine too," he explains.

And, he says, it's a good chance for FringeWare to return to their conceptual roots as purveyors of offbeat software, entertainment and gadgetry (think biofeedback software, brain machine, games and videos). As Casey puts it, optimistically, "If anything, FringeWare will return to its original form -- not as a bookstore but as selling actual wares that are on the fringe."

By Janelle Brown

Janelle Brown is a contributing writer for Salon.

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