Philly AIDS Thrift recently renewed its lease to continue operating PAT @ Giovanni’s Room at 12th and Pine streets.
The new lease keeps the same terms and runs through Sept. 1, 2017. Philly AIDS Thrift signed a two-year lease in 2014 with longtime owner Ed Hermance, who owned the LGBT bookstore since 1976. Hermance wanted to retire at that time.
“We talked to Ed over the summer,” said Tom Brennan, a co-founder of Philly AIDS Thrift. “He likes what we’re doing there. We like what we’re doing.”
After Philly AIDS Thrift broke even the first year with the store and turned a profit last year, the board felt confident it could continue the legacy of Giovanni’s Room.
PAT @ Giovanni’s Room now operates as a 501(c)3 nonprofit that sells donated clothing and accessories in addition to music and books. Proceeds benefit HIV/AIDS initiatives in the region. The same happens with sales from Philly AIDS Thrift’s flagship shop at 710 S. Fifth St.
The nonprofit also earned a $10,000 grant in May from PNC Bank and the Independence Business Alliance to support the store’s website, www.queerbooks.com.
Alan Chelak, manager and volunteer coordinator of PAT @ Giovanni’s Room, said staffers want the website to serve as a curated literary resource for people who may not live near an LGBT bookstore — a business that is becoming rare.
By the end of this month, Calamus Bookstore in Boston will close. It started around the same time as Giovanni’s Room. Chelak and Brennan had both visited the store and said they’re sad to see it go.
Chelak said he does sometimes feel the pressure that comes with managing one of the last remaining LGBT bookstores in the country. But he prefers to focus on how to remain an integral part of Philadelphia.
“I’d like to think of it as a collective project and a constant work in progress,” Chelak said of PAT @ Giovanni’s Room. “Everybody’s encouraged to think about: Is this place working as best as it can? It’s constantly evolving. Having so many people come in and volunteer and help out really makes that possible. There are constantly new eyes on the store. There’s a lot of brainpower involved.”
Five employees work at PAT @ Giovanni’s Room, Chelak said, adding 30-40 people volunteer there, depending on the time of year. Brennan said the income is not yet at a place where the board is ready to consider purchasing the building for the store. But it will continue to evaluate its options on a yearly basis.
“There’s no reason for this place to go away,” Brennan said. “Philadelphia is a tourist city … You come here to visit one of the most historic cities in the United States. Let’s be part of that.”
Brennan noted the bookstore aims to be a watering hole for the LGBT community. Chelak takes the lead on organizing events with a focus on local authors and artists. During OutFest this month, Nikki Powerhouse performed. Chelak described her as a “Renaissance woman.” She’s a poet and performance artist, among other things. A production of Powerhouse’s show, “THE ART OF I AM,” will open this month in New York City.
For more events at PAT @ Giovanni’s Room, visit www.phillyaidsthriftatgiovannisroom.com.