Sad news this week as the Philadelphia Gay News reports that Giovanni’s Room, the oldest LGBT bookstore in the country, will close for good in May.
Owner Ed Hermance, who has operated the store since the dark early days of the gay-rights movement in the 1970s, tried to find a buyer for the store so he could retire, but an apparent deal fell through. According to the PGN, Hermance blames Amazon and similar retailers for making business difficult for indie booksellers, and says he’s lost between $10,000 and $15,000 keeping Giovanni’s Room open so far in 2014.
I’ve shopped at Giovanni’s Room many times in the last twelve years or so, and lived for two years at Juniper and Pine Streets, less than two blocks away. It’s always been a dream to one day see a book I’d written on their shelves, one of those fantasies young writers have about how we know when we’ve “made it.” Giovanni’s Room was a terrific, welcoming space where the shelves were always well-stocked and well-maintained. It felt like a place where people loved books.
I’m sorry to know that fantasy will never come true. I’m also sorry to see one less independent book store for Philadelphia and for the United States, where less than two-thousand indie booksellers remain.
I’m thrilled, of course, by the tremendous advances the LGBT movement has made since Giovanni’s Room opened their doors, but one casualty of the LGBT community’s integration into the culture at large is the loss of our “gay places.” Gay bars, gay bookstores, and other specifically LGBT-oriented businesses are less necessary now, partly because of the Internet but mostly because LGBT people don’t feel as unwelcome in mixed company. That’s mostly a positive, but it’s very sad to say goodbye to a place with as much history, and as much love invested in it, as Giovanni’s Room.