An institution for queer bookworms across Melbourne, bookstore Hares and Hyenas celebrates 20 years tomorrow.

Far from simply reflecting on the milestone, the bookstore is moving ahead with plans to add a licensed bar to the store, which already has a café.

The store is owned by long-time partners Rowland Thomson and former ALSO Foundation CEO Crusader Hillis.

Hillis said Hares and Hyenas has always been more than just a bookstore.

“Being a community resource is a really big part of what a queer bookshop does,” he said.

“When someone comes to Melbourne from interstate or from overseas, if there is a gay bookshop they go there because they know they’re going to get the local papers, all the marketing on all the events and everything else that’s going on and they generally know it’s going to be a friendly welcoming environment. “Right from the very beginning we saw the bookshop as … a community resource and that’s one of the reasons we’ve really developed the shop’s capacity to give away free information.”

Hillis said being a community hub often means keeping an open door to anyone struggling with their sexuality or gender identity or directing families to support groups and resources.

“We’ve had kids coming in their teenage years and we let them read the books on a seat because we know they can’t buy the books and take them home,” Hillis said.

Now located on Johnston St, Fitzroy, the iconic bookstore started life on the other side of the river in South Yarra in 1991 and has since survived a few moves, including a stint in Collingwood.Since its opening, the bookstore has hosted more than 350 literary events, supporting hundreds of writers, including much local talent.

“When we started we said one of the first things was that we were going to help develop [queer] culture, so we started doing events and they got bigger and bigger and started to snowball,” Hillis said.

With queer bookshops on the cultural endangered species list, Hillis said Hares and Hyenas has ensured its survival by embracing the move towards online buying and expanding the business to include a café, and soon a bar.

“If we just maintained a specialty in books alone, we wouldn’t be able to sustain it at all,” he said.

“We’re trying to stay up with shifts in behaviours and becoming a bar/bookshop.

“There are very few places for the GLBTI community to socialise which are not alcohol-fuelled rather than just having alcohol available.” The bookshop will celebrate its 20th birthday during the Midsumma Festival (Jan 15 – Feb 5) with 20 readings and performances from queer literary identities including Andrea Goldsmith, Christos Tsiolkas, Benjamin Law, Noel Tovey, Tom Cho and Sophie Cunningham.

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