After 37 years, nation's oldest LGBT bookstore to close doors

STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Ed Hermance , 73, who has owned the LGBT bookstore Giovanni's Room since 1976, will shutter the store.
STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Ed Hermance , 73, who has owned the LGBT bookstore Giovanni's Room since 1976, will shutter the store.
Posted: April 30, 2014

TIME AND TIME again over the past 37 years, members of Philadelphia's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community have rallied around Giovanni's Room, the country's oldest LGBT bookstore, founded in the city.

But Ed Hermance, 73, who's owned the shop since 1976, said with the advent of online retailers like Amazon.com, the grass roots just aren't enough to keep the specialty bookstore - one of only a handful of dedicated LGBT stores remaining in the country - afloat anymore.

In the fall, Hermance announced plans to jointly sell the business and its store's side-by-side properties at 12th and Pine streets. But now, after finding no viable buyer for both the store and the property, Hermance said, he's decided to close.

"It was just not going to work," Hermance said yesterday as he sat at his desk on the second floor of the spacious store, flanked by shelves of DVDs and a table of books with titles like Lawfully Wedded Husband: How My Gay Marriage Will Save the American Family and Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out.

For Hermance, shuttering Giovanni's Room is bittersweet: He's ready to retire, but he'll miss the sense of community at the store.

"The emotional attachment to the store is powerful," he said. "The store has played a crucial role in people's lives."

He recalled how when he purchased the store's current location - one side in 1979 and next door in 1986 - about 100 volunteers helped renovate it. In 2009, when the store's facade had to be fixed because it was in danger of collapse, a job that would cost $50,000, the community again came together and raised the cash to fix it.

But, Hermance said, the Internet has helped put independent shops like his out of business. A plan once to open a cafe in Giovanni's Room to bolster profits didn't pan out, the owner added.

Still, online sources can't curate a lesbian, gay or trans book list like an owner with a discerning eye, Hermance said, or serve as a haven in the community.

Years ago, Hermance said, "if you typed in 'homosexuality' on Amazon, the first book to come up was A Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality."

Giovanni's Room hosts about 50 readings a year. Its last will likely be the annual Lambda Literary Awards Finalist Reading at 5:30 p.m. on May 15. Hermance expects to shutter the shop two days later.

If Hermance sells his properties - valued at nearly $840,000 this year, according to the city's Office of Property Assessment - outright, he'll live off a portion of the profits. The rest, he'll donate to the Delaware Valley Legacy Fund, which supports LGBT communities. Otherwise, he said, he may leave the buildings to the fund and live off an annuity.

Hermance will officially announce his plans to close at a news conference tonight at 7. He said he anticipates an emotional reaction to the closure.

"It means a lot to people," he said. "It means a lot to me."


On Twitter: @morganzalot

Blog: PhillyConfidential.com

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|