PGN exclusive: Giovanni's Room to close next month
by Angela Thomas
Apr 28, 2014 | 10614 views | 7 7 comments | 37 37 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A longtime staple in the Philadelphia LGBT community is closing its doors.

The country’s oldest LGBT bookstore, Giovanni’s Room, will close May 17.

Ed Hermance, who has owned the store for 38 years, announced his plans for retirement in the fall, planning to sell both the business and the two buildings it encompasses. He announced a potential sale agreement several weeks ago, but told PGN this week the buyer could not come up with enough money to finalize the sale.

Hermance said he made the difficult decision to close the store several days ago. Since the beginning of the year, Hermance said he had lost between $10,000-$15,000 in keeping Giovanni's Room open.

He blamed retailers such as Amazon for the tough environment independent bookstores are currently facing.

“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.

Hermance said there is a possibility that Giovanni’s Room could be resurrected in some form, but said ideas would have to change in order for it to be successful.

“Whatever it is that they do, it will have to be something different than what we are doing now. If won’t survive if it isn’t different,” he said.

A press conference is scheduled for 7 p.m. April 29. Beginning Wednesday, the store will offer 25 percent off all merchandise through the closing.

The store, at the corner of Pine and 12th streets, has an inventory of more than 48,000 books and also offers five million books online and 3.5 million eBooks.

Hermance had been hoping to sell the business for $100,000 and the buildings for up to $750,000.

He said he still intends to give proceeds made from the rental or sale of the buildings to Delaware Valley Legacy Fund upon his death.

The bookstore moved twice before inhabiting its current Gayborhood location, originally located on South Street before moving to the 1400 block of Spruce Street.

Giovanni’s Room had events scheduled after May 17 and Hermance said he will try his hardest to find another venue for those events. The store has four employees, including Hermance. The one fulltime employee, who has been with the bookstore for 35 years, will be eligible to collect unemployment.

Hermance said the loss of the iconic store will be hard for him, as well as the community.

“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. It is very emotional for me.”

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April 30, 2014
I was introduced to Giovanni’s Room by friends when I first moved to Philadelphia 25 years ago. Coming from rural Illinois, I had no idea such places existed. In turn I introduced new friends to the bookstore over the years.

The joy of buying in the store was being able to peruse the shelves and read passages before purchasing, which led to discovering new authors and genres. The true fabulousness lay in the staff and the people who came in browsing who each offered suggestions and in feeling safe, centered and connected with the thousands who had preceeded us.

My love of reading was heightened immensely by Giovanni’s Room and I will sorely miss my oasis of comfort. Bless you, Ed and Skip for being a part of our lives.

April 29, 2014
What a sad loss for Philadelphia and for all of us. I will never forget the first time I had the courage to walk into Giovanni's Room, to buy a copy of Julia Serano's "Whipping Girl". My only regret is that I didn't have the courage to do it when I first moved to Philadelphia in the early 1990's, instead of waiting until almost 20 years later, but Giovanni's Room will always live on in my memories as an important milestone in my coming out. Thank you for everything you've done for all of us!
April 29, 2014
This is such a shame, although it's understandable. I really hope someone finds a way to keep it open and profitable while retaining the name and history. How about as a café/gift shop that has a collection of books? There are no late night entertainment alternative to bars anymore. I remember in the 90s a lot of independent coffee shops (in DC, anyway) stayed open after the bars closed and had stand up comedy, bands, and poetry readings. It could offer all that AND happen to have a collection of gay literature.
April 29, 2014
I remember meeting Ed Hermance and his partner Arlene at an early conference of the Gay Academic Union, probably 1973. Giovanni's Room took its logo from the cover of a book I co-authored with David Thorstad: *The Early Homosexual Rights Movement (1864-1935)*. By the standards of serious, non-fiction, small press books *TEHRM* was a bestseller -- certainly for Giovanni's Room and other independent gay bookstores.

Unfortunately for my publishing house, Pagan Press, Giovanni's Room succumbed to a politically correct, mass-market mentality, ceasing to display, promote, or even buy our books. Two of our books -- Plato's *The Banquet* translated by Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Lauritsen's *A Freethinker's Primer of Male Love* -- are small books with narrow spines. These are important books for Gay Liberation, and if displayed properly they will sell. However, if just on the shelf, spine out, most customers will overlook them.

My book, *The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein* (*TMWWF*), is an important work of literary criticism, which makes the case that male love, as romantic male friendship, is a central theme of the novel. However, *TMWWF* also argues that the great poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, is the true author of *Frankenstein*, not his second wife, Mary Shelley. This incited the wrath of feminist Furies. *TMWWF* got much publicity and reviews ranging from rave (Camille Paglia and Hubert Kennedy) to vicious. But Giovanni's Room didn't order it. In contrast, Calamus Books in Boston has always displayed and promoted all of my books, and they have sold well.

I am no lover of Amazon, but nevertheless they make my books available to the whole world, attractively presented. Amazon has sold hundreds of copies of *TMWWF* alone.

Rather than having its own gay catalogue, Giovanni's Room just used the Barnes & Noble catalogue. This meant that not a single one of our titles appeared in the catalogue on the Giovanni's Room website. Neither Barnes & Noble nor any of its affiliates want publishers with fewer than 10 titles. It is not easy to be a *small publisher*.

All that said, I do lament the loss of Giovanni's Room and so many other gay bookstores. They served as community spaces for us.

April 30, 2014
I should have given my name, not just the user ID.

John Lauritsen
April 28, 2014
The end of an era & Ed Hermance persevered when all the independent bookstores became targets for the chains and online retailers. I met James Baldwin once on South St. & he knew the location of the original location (by then a restaurant) of Giovanni's. He knew the importance of a visible gay bookstore to the community. All of the community events that GR has hosted and its writer's speaker series will be sorely missed. But for now we must all give a big thank you to Ed & the staff at Giovanni's Room as an enduring symbol of gay community, culture and pride.
April 28, 2014
I wish this was not happening..... I don't know where I would be today if it were not for the helpful books I bought there as a teenager struggling with who I was, the bullying I endured as well as the Baptist church and school persecuting me for who I am. The books and employees were so helpful. It is sad to see this wonderful store close it's doors. Thank you Giovanni's Room <3