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A tiny gift shop in Maine became a refuge for LGBTQ people

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Time now for StoryCorps. Today, memories of a tiny shop that had a big impact. In 1990, a young gay couple, Roger Mayo and Jim Neal, opened Drop Me A Line in Portland, Maine. They sold greeting cards, music and books on LGBTQ history. But soon, it became more than just a store.

ROGER MAYO: Portland was nothing like it is now. Portland was a rundown, dirty, old sea village. It was dangerous to be gay, and people got beat up all the time. And the store was 11 by 22 feet. Once we opened, we realized we were never going to make a dime.

JIM NEAL: I knew when somebody was in the store for the first time and they were a gay man or a lesbian, this sense of comfort and relief, it was almost like a big sigh. I have a good friend that I'm still in touch with today. Her husband was a closeted gay man, and she thought, I've got to bring Bill into Drop Me A Line so he can meet a couple of gay men. And once he met us, he then decided that he could live his life as a gay man.

MAYO: One day I was working at the counter and this young man came in and he says, do you have a stamp? I've got this card. It's a coming out letter to my mom, and I want to get it in the mail. And I said, oh, yeah, I have a stamp for that. I said, give it to me. And he gave it to me, and I put the stamp on it, and I put it onto the counter and he said, are you going to give that back to me? And I said, no. I said, I'm going to drop it in the mailbox to make sure it gets mailed. You're not getting it back. Your mother's getting it.

NEAL: You know, it's hands down the most meaningful thing that I've done with my life.

MAYO: You know, a lot of my self-confidence came from that store.

NEAL: Well, we grew up together. You know, we met when we were young adults.

MAYO: You had hair then.

NEAL: Never as thick as yours.

(LAUGHTER)

MAYO: But eventually, Borders came to the mall and they had a gay and lesbian book department.

NEAL: Yeah. The role we served had kind of run its course. You could be visible.

MAYO: Right. The need moved on. Lately, believe it or not, I've actually fantasized about opening another Drop Me A Line. Probably a week after I think about it, I slap myself really hard and think, what are you thinking about?

NEAL: Yeah, it's a great fantasy.

MAYO: You do not want to do that.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Roger Mayo and Jim Neal at StoryCorps in Portland, Maine. Their shop, Drop Me A Line, closed in 2006. This conversation is archived at the Library of Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Max Jungreis

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