LGBT bookstore in peril: Giovanni's Room needs 50G for renovations

Ed Hermance (left) and employee Aquila Alexander "hold up" the unsound wall of Giovanni's Room.
Ed Hermance (left) and employee Aquila Alexander "hold up" the unsound wall of Giovanni's Room.
Posted: July 28, 2009

Philadelphia's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community stepped in to help Giovanni's Room find a home in Center City in the late '70s, after the gay- and lesbian-interest bookstore was forced out of a previous location by a homophobic landlord.

Longtime owner Ed Hermance, 68, said he is hoping that the community will pitch in again to help raise funds to rebuild a brick wall that is threatening the building's stability.

Hermance notified members of the store's Facebook fan page that "the cost of this renovation, roughly $50,000, will not be easily paid; independent bookstores, LGBT bookstores included, have never been that profitable."

Founded on South Street in 1973, Giovanni's Room, which takes its name from James Baldwin's 1956 book, is considered the oldest operating gay- and lesbian-interest bookstore in the country.

It relocated for a few years to Spruce Street near Broad, but the landlord, who refused to enter the store, told Hermance to get out, he said.

Hermance borrowed money from community members and bought the property in 1979 at 12th and Pine streets, where the store has anchored an area that became the city's "Gayborhood."

"This store was created by the gay community," said Hermance, who said that 100 people volunteered to help with the initial renovations. "If there was ever a community bookstore, this was it."

Hermance said that the renovations could begin as early as next week and would probably take three to four weeks.

Already, he said, the community has been very supportive.

"It's been amazing," he said. "On Saturday, people handed over $650 in cash to help. We have been flooded with mail orders from all over the country."

Hermance said that a "famous-author dinner series" and a poker tournament are also in the works.

The store's history makes it "something that really puts Philadelphia on the map in terms of important gay and lesbian institutions," said Patrick Egan, a former deputy mayor of Philadelphia who is now an assistant professor at New York University.

Giovanni's Room "is more than just a place to buy books," said Tom Wilson Weinberg, one of the store's founders. "It's served as a safe place for members of the gay and lesbian community, some for the first time." *

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