When 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.