May 7, 2014

Country’s oldest LGBT bookstore to close

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Giovanni's Room, the oldest LGBT bookstore in the nation, will close its doors this month. ©Agnieszka Lobodzinska / Via Shutterstock

Giovanni’s Room, the oldest LGBT bookstore in the nation, will close its doors this month.
©Agnieszka Lobodzinska / Via Shutterstock

Giovanni’s Room, the oldest LGBT bookstore in the US, announced last week that it will be shutting down in a few weeks, Angela Thomas writes for the Philadelphia Gay News. Longtime owner Ed Hermance says that the store has been losing money, so when he retires, he intends to sell it, along with the two buildings it occupies.

Founded in 1973, Giovanni’s Room takes its name from James Baldwin’s novel by the same name, a significant book in bringing discussion of gay relationships into public discourse (in 1999, it ranked #2 on the 100 Best Lesbian and Gay Novels list curated by gay publishing association The Publishing Triangle). Hermance has been the owner for thirty-eight of the forty-one years it’s been in operation. In a press event announcing the closing, he stated that this year alone, the store has lost $10-15,000, and he places the blame on retail giants like Amazon.

“The government is allowing Amazon to tighten their fingers around the throats of the publishers and drive their retail competitors out of the business by clearly monopolistic methods,” he said. He leaves the door open for the possibility of someone reopening the store in a new form, though he is not overly optimistic: “Whatever it is that they do, it will have to be something different than what we are doing now. It won’t survive if it isn’t different.”

News of the store’s demise has been met with sadness and nostalgia from the gay community. Kevin Riordan writes for the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Bling blog:

In the 1980s, the store — by then at 12th and Pine — was where I could pick up the New York, Boston and DC gay papers, which offered essential AIDS coverage at a time when mainstream media were less than attentive.

Well into the ’90s and beyond, Giovanni’s was a regular stop-and-shop for me and countless other LGBT folks, a cross between a reading room and a community center, a place to dawdle away a rainy hour — and leave with a book or two under one’s arm.

So thank you, Giovanni’s Room, and owner Ed Hermance. Your little shop changed my life. And I’m sure I’m not alone.

On Slate, Victoria A. Brownwirth laments, “I felt the tears come almost immediately as the feelings of loss washed over me… How could this place, this monument to all that has happened for lesbians and gays, bisexuals, trans and queers, be closing its doors forever?” And John Gallagher of Queerty describes the store’s significance for being “as much a political statement as a bookstore. For LGBT Philadephians, it was a gathering place, source of much-needed information and affirmation of the community’s creativity.”

Hermance was emotional about the fate of Giovanni’s Room, telling the PGN, “It has been a wonderful life for me and it combines my best skills with my deepest interests, so it certainly is going to be a lifetime’s work. I know that thousands of people have used and cared about this store.” He plans to bequeath any money from the sale or rental of the space to the Delaware Valley Legacy Fund, a community foundation whose mission is to support the needs of the LGBT community in the area.

 

Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.

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