Nation’s Oldest LGBT Bookstore Is Closing Its Doors

Travel Trip Gay TourismWhen it opened in 1973, Giovanni’s Room was as much a political statement as a bookstore. For LGBT Philadephians, it was a gathering place, source of much-needed information and affirmation of the community’s creativity. Now, after struggling with declining sales for years, owner Ed Hermance has decided to close Giovanni’s Room, the oldest LGBT bookstore in the country.

“There’s a very strong emotional connection between our customers and this store,” Hermance said. Unfortunately, the competition from online discount sellers, most notably Amazon, has made it impossible to keep the doors open.

Giovanni’s Room is one of a dwindling band of bookstores that were once fixtures in the LGBT community. Over the past several years, many have folded because of financial pressures, including A Different Light in Los Angeles and San Francisco, Lambda Rising in D.C. and Oscar Wilde Bookshop in New York.

Giovanni’s Room is named for the landmark James Baldwin novel about an American in Paris in a relationship with an Italian bartender. At one point the bookstore had two locations and was selling books to bookstores overseas. Now it joins a long list of pioneer institutions that the community is leaving behind. Giovanni Room’s is expected to close by May 17.


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  • nsomniac

    It’s sad but we see this happening a lot with book stores closing left and right since now people can download digital books instead of buying real ones. Sorry Giovanni’s Room you will be missed.

  • Lvng1tor

    Honestly, I never order anything from Amazon and never will. They use their overpowering influence to target small retailers and purposely put them out of online business if you do not sell thru them. I am not saying that’s what happened here but it surely didn’t help. The 12 years I lived in Philly I only bought books at Giovanni’s Room. I really loved this book shop. While I love that younger generations are more integrated into society at large I mourn the loss of gayberhoods across the nation and gaycentric business’ that supported so may of us and are now the victims of their own out and proud presence for equality.

  • michael mellor

    The sad thing is that gay men are more interested in watching porn on the internet.

  • Billy Budd

    All my books are bought online at amaz*n or Abeboo*s. I don’t need to go to stores anymore. I also buy books for my Kindle.

  • jonjct

    I have to reminisce, but I’ll be brief. Philly was a great gay town in the 70’s. Gay guys were everywhere, as was true in all the major metro areas back then. Gay lifestyle was full to the brim. There was “the block” for cruising after hours and so-called “gay acres” by the Art Museum for outdoor, afternoon suntanning sex. “Steps” was on Delancey street and Equus had just opened. Day’s deli was packed, and my favorite late night club “Second Story” was the best wee-hours hook-up place. The hustler boys (addicts, rough trade) used to congregate kitty corner to the Acme market at 15th and Spruce in the days before AIDS (you could still get the clap or worse yet syphilis from them). And remember the dancebar “DCA”?, nobody then or now knows what DCA stands for. I “dated” the founder of Giovanni’s Room once or twice but I notice his name is not mentioned on Wiki, or elsewhere either. (I now forget his name which is the nature of gay “dating”, … then and now).

    These days there are fewer distinct gay areas, or there are just small gayborhoods left where there used to be thriving gay communities. Young people cannot imagine the sheer volume of gay guys in the city in the 70’s. If you google Christopher street pics, 70’s you will get an idea, so many guys on a summer evening congregating in the street, it actually stopped traffic. And that is how Philly was in the 70’s. EVERYBODY was gay, everybody.

    Then I moved to NYC, AIDS hit, and everybody died. The demographics changed, the village became straight and the young ppl mixed and mingled, blending in with the breeders, and that 10 year long moment in gay history passed, never to return.

    I am 60 and I believe I saw and lived the most amazing, romantic, dangerous period of gay history. It was the launch of gay culture, opening night. I can’t believe I survived it.

  • Lvng1tor

    @Billy Budd: Again, just sucking the life out. It’s what you get off on isn’t it. Kinda like a fetish. Do you ever actually contribute to the conversation? Or, do you just take the opposite view, insult or incite?

  • PhillyRock

    It is really really sad and Ed Hermance couldn’t be a nicer guy.

    and JonJct – thank you for sharing. I truly love hearing gay history. I came out in the early 80s in the South and moved to Philly in 87.

    My favorite times are listening to some of the older folks sharing their stories of their ‘salad days.’

  • Kangol

    I haven’t been in there for years, but it was an invaluable bookstore. Sad news.

  • albertb1

    Even in the Castro the bricks built by Harvey Milk and so many others are slowly being torn down. Gay small businesses are slowly being edged out by chain stores. The Gayborhood is slowly seeing more and more hetero couples with their strollers and the city has lost it’s luster. Oh sure the bars are still there, but everything is so sterile. You see more homeless on the street than available men and random hook ups are all done online.

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