The first A Different Light Bookstore opened at 4014 Santa Monica Blvd. in Los Angeles' Silver Lake neighborhood in October 1979, followed by a branch in New York City's Greenwich Village in 1983 and a branch in San Francisco's Castro (489 Castro St.) district in 1985. In May 1990, a second Los Angeles store opened at 8853 Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood. Supplanted by the West Hollywood store, the original store in Silver Lake closed in 1992.
At its height, the chain was one of the most influential LGBT booksellers in the United States, serving as a cultural hub and social center for LGBT people.