Giovanni's Room to reopen under new management

Ed Hermance, founder and former operator of Giovanni's Room, said the store had a good chance of succeeding under the management of Philly AIDS Thrift.
Ed Hermance, founder and former operator of Giovanni's Room, said the store had a good chance of succeeding under the management of Philly AIDS Thrift. (COURTNEY MARABELLA / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 28, 2014

After closing in May, Giovanni's Room, the iconic gay-themed bookstore in Center City, is set to begin its second chapter when it reopens under new management in a few weeks.

The store at 12th and Pine Streets, which opened in 1976, is being taken over by Philly AIDS Thrift, a nonprofit organization that operates a thrift store at Fifth and Bainbridge Streets.

Tom Brennan, cofounder and manager at Philly AIDS Thrift, said it was exciting to reopen the famous 3,000-square-foot bookstore.

"At Giovanni's Room, we're taking over a well-known and well-loved thing from day one," Brennan said. He said his group had a two-year lease on the store.

In addition to books, he said, the store will offer many of the same sorts of items found at Philly AIDS Thrift.

"It's going to be some clothes, some shoes, also . . . camp, pop-art collectibles, kind of hipsterish," Brennan said. "We're just going to fill the shelves."

He said his group was committed to keeping $15,000 in inventory of new lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender books at all times, adding that about a third of the store would be devoted to books.

"The aim is to keep its original vision and focus as a significant part of the store, which is that it's the United States' oldest gay bookstore," Brennan said.

Brennan said his group would also take over the bookstore's online business, queerbooks.com.

All Philly AIDS Thrifts' profits are donated to the AIDS Fund, a Philadelphia group that distributes money to organizations devoted to HIV/AIDS-related issues. Profits from the bookstore also will be donated to the fund, Brennan said.

Giovanni's Room, which is named for the 1956 novel by James Baldwin, prospered for many years. It wholesaled books to Europe, Australia, and New Zealand and had $100,000 in inventory in the early 1990s.

As with many other bookstores in recent years, Giovanni's Room's profits dwindled amid Internet-based competition, said Ed Hermance, the founder and former operator of the store.

Hermance said the new operator had a good chance of succeeding because of the array of items the store will offer.

Brennan said that Giovanni's Room would open in a few weeks, but that its grand reopening would be Oct. 10, 11, and 12 to coincide with Philadelphia Outfest, the city's annual gay block party.

Reaction to the news of the store's reopening "has been overwhelmingly great," Brennan said.

"There aren't a lot of stores that people love, that have a deep meaning for people, and we know that Giovanni's Room does," he said.


vclark@phillynews.com

215-854-5717

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