Philly AIDS Thrift to reopen the doors of Giovanni’s Room
by Angela Thomas
Aug 21, 2014 | 2 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
<b>THE NEW CHAPTER:</b> Philly AIDS Thrift announced this week that it has signed a lease for the space occupied by the recently shuttered Giovanni’s Room. The PAT outpost, officially opening in October, will be known as Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room. Giovanni’s Room founder Ed Hermance (from left) was on hand for the lease signing Aug. 16, along with Alan Chelak, who will manage the new store, and PAT co-founders Christina Kallas-Saritsoglou and Tom Brennan. Last fall, Hermance announced his intention to retire and sell the business and buildings, but closed the shop in the spring after being unable to secure a buyer. <i>Photo: Scott A. Drake</i>
THE NEW CHAPTER: Philly AIDS Thrift announced this week that it has signed a lease for the space occupied by the recently shuttered Giovanni’s Room. The PAT outpost, officially opening in October, will be known as Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room. Giovanni’s Room founder Ed Hermance (from left) was on hand for the lease signing Aug. 16, along with Alan Chelak, who will manage the new store, and PAT co-founders Christina Kallas-Saritsoglou and Tom Brennan. Last fall, Hermance announced his intention to retire and sell the business and buildings, but closed the shop in the spring after being unable to secure a buyer. Photo: Scott A. Drake
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The doors to the nation’s oldest LGBT bookstore have been closed all summer. But a deal was inked last week that will reopen them. On Aug. 16, Philly AIDS Thrift signed a two-year lease to rent the Gayborhood building that houses Giovanni’s Room — and to open a new business that will, in part, keep the iconic name. Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room will open Oct. 10, with sneak-peak shopping days throughout September. The store will offer new and used LGBT-centric books, as well as a wide variety of higher-end thrift-shop items. The new store will be considered an outpost of PAT’s successful flagship store at 710 S. Fifth St. PAT is a 501(c)3 tax-exempt charitable organization, which donates proceeds from sales to AIDS Fund, which distributes funding to area HIV/AIDS service organizations. PAT office manager Alan Chelak will manage the new shop, which will operate with two full-time employees and six people in all on payroll. Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room will encompass the 3,000-square-foot building at the corner of 12th and Pine streets It will stock $15,000 worth of LGBT-related books, about 2,000 titles, as well as items such as clothing, jewelry and small furniture. The store will still offer books and ebooks online at www.queerbooks.com. Chelak told PGN the store would operate similar to PAT’s Queen Village location, with a majority of labor from volunteers and inventory from donations. Chelak said he hopes to continue the book readings and events Giovanni’s Room previously hosted. In September, Giovanni’s Room founder Ed Hermance, who started the business in 1976, announced his plan to retire and sell both the business and building. But, the store closed in May after a deal was unable to be reached. At the time, Hermance said he was in talks with a local LGBT-related organization interested in the space, although he did not disclose the group’s name publicly. “I remember reading the article in the fall when Ed first announced he was looking for a buyer,” said PAT co-founder Tom Brennan. “I thought it was interesting, so the board talked about the possibility and then we called Ed.” Brennan said the board approached Hermance with a plan for the new venture. “We had a long talk and then met him in person throughout the summer and within a week or two we had a basic idea of what we wanted to do and he liked it,” Brennan said. PAT co-founder Christina Kallas-Saritsoglou said the opportunity was a natural one for the store. “We’re in the business of preserving precious things and what can be more precious than Giovanni’s Room?” she said. The PAT board officially voted in favor of leasing the space last month, but both Brennan and Kallas-Saritsoglou said the store has been collecting more higher-end items for the outpost since the beginning of the summer. Hermance told PGN that it “feels good” to finally let go of the store he owned for 35 years. “We’ve been struggling for so long and I think Philly AIDS Thrift has a real chance of turning it around and making it profitable again,” he said. Brennan said the opportunity to take over Giovanni’s Room was a once-in-a-lifetime chance the store could not afford to miss. “You only have one shot,” he said. “People were thinking some other LGBT group would take over it but it has to be something that will make sense for us to do. If anyone is in the position to do it, we are.” Since opening in 2005, PAT has generated nearly $900,000 for HIV/AIDS causes. The flagship shop moved to its current location in 2011 and last fall expanded its sales space by 50 percent. Kallas-Saritsoglou said it was too early to predict how much monthly fundraising the new outpost will generate for AIDS Fund. “We won’t know until we open the doors,” she said. “But nine years ago, we opened a smaller space and started giving $500 a month pretty fast. Now, in a much larger space, we’re up to $20,000 a month. Originally, we started the store from scratch and totally word of mouth, but Giovanni’s is already so known and loved that we hope the monthly number can be a significant one, at a faster pace.” Hermance said he will be on the premises the first week to answer employee questions and assist with general operations, but that he otherwise hopes to serve as a back-up employee for the small staff if someone goes on vacation or gets sick. Hermance said he will miss the connections he made at the store through its nearly 40-year tenure, but said he will continue to be involved with the LGBT community in one capacity or another. “I have had thoughts of offering walking tours of LGBT Philadelphia on a regularly scheduled basis,” he said. Brennan declined to identify how much PAT will be paying in rent, but said Hermance was generous in the agreement, and that the amount “barely covers Ed’s property taxes on the building.” Brennan said Hermance will act as landlord and, after the two-year lease is up, they will reevaluate the success of the store. “Nothing is a sure thing, so we can’t just keep it running because it is historical,” he said. “We think our version of Giovanni’s Room will be successful but the bottom line is we can’t keep it going just because we love Giovanni’s Room, so at the end of two years, if it becomes successful, we’ll talk to Ed about a long-term lease or buying the building. It’ll be a big undertaking.” PAT started moving inventory in on Monday. Chelak, who was among the movers, said the LGBT bookstore was one of the first places in which he stopped when he first visited Philadelphia a few years ago. “Just the historical importance of it and being able to be involved in any capacity, especially in the Amazon age when keeping independent bookstores alive is really important, is wonderful,” he said. The Giovanni’s Room sign and rainbow flag will remain outside the store, but Brennan said organizers will likely add a banner or poster in the window displaying the new name. Also remaining in place will be the historical marker from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, placed in 2011 after a campaign from local community leaders, denoting the store’s historical significance. Brennan added that the new store should preserve the Giovanni’s Room moniker as the oldest LGBT bookstore in the country. Chelak, a former PAT volunteer, said he has been working with Hermance for the past month to learn the ropes on operating the store. Kallas-Saritsoglou said she’s confident Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room will be in good hands. “I am just so happy it will be Alan running the place but I am sad I won’t be working with him directly,” she said. “He is so wonderful and has book experience, and this is a wonderful experience for him. He is the perfect match.” Chelak said there is a sense of relief knowing PAT will be involved in keeping the spirit of Giovanni’s Room alive. “It makes it 10 times better,” he said. “We get to keep the space going and create and nurture positive relationships with the community, and the money we make will continue to go to an amazing cause.” As far as advice for the staff at Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room, Hermance said it is all about being attuned to what the community wants. “You really have to be all ears and eyes to identify new forthcoming books, which is not as easy as it used to be,” he said. “I am hoping it will be bigger and better but still include some of the older stuff, so it still feels like home.” Community-mindedness will be at the forefront of Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room, said Kallas-Saritsoglou. “I only see wonderful things happening with this,” she said. “Ed and I did similar things. He has created a safe space for people and we do that at Philly AIDS Thrift — it is a communal kind of space. We created a space where people can hang out and we have a ton of regulars. We created a place for all walks of life and we will continue what Ed has already created there in that matter. We have that vision.”
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Scholarship recipients Saidzhan Abdullaev (from left), Kemar Jewel, Rick Mula and Matthew Steele
Scholarship recipients Saidzhan Abdullaev (from left), Kemar Jewel, Rick Mula and Matthew Steele
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RICK WILES
RICK WILES
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New LGBT film fest to debut
by Gary M. Kramer
Aug 21, 2014 | 18 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A new LGBT film festival — qFLIX — is coming to Philadelphia next month. Thom Cardwell, who has been involved in dozens of area film festivals, is spearheading the five-day event, which will take place Sept. 18-22 at various venues along the Avenue of the Arts, including the Kimmel Center, the Prince Music Theater and the University of the Arts. “People were asking me about an LGBT film festival. I don’t want to live in a city that lost their [queer] film festival,” Cardwell said in a recent phone interview about why he started qFLIX. “We got some support from the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, the Wyncote Foundation and the Greater Philadelphia Film Office as well as our sponsor, the Philadelphia Independent Film and Video Association,” where Cardwell is on the board. “So I thought, rather than just talking about it or skipping a year and not having a festival, let’s go for it!” qFLIX will be different than QFest, or the Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, which would have celebrated its 20th anniversary in July but was postponed. Organizers said they might stage two mini festivals, one in the fall and the other in the spring. For qFLIX, both opening- and closing-night titles were being kept under wraps, but films that have been booked include “Tiger Orange” by director/co-writer Wade Gasque, a drama about the reunion of two estranged gay brothers (Frankie Valenti, aka adult-film star Johnny Hazzard, and co-writer Mark Strango), and “Corpus Christi,” a documentary about out playwright Terrence McNally’s controversial play that imagines Jesus and his disciples as gay. McNally, who has been invited to the festival, has not confirmed attendance yet. One of the festival’s centerpiece features is “Saugatuck Cures,” by director Matthew Ladensack about the openly gay Drew (Max Adler of “Glee”), who takes his buddy’s (Danny Mooney) strange advice on how to raise money for his ailing mother’s caregiving. Adler and Mooney, along with filmmaker Ladensack and screenwriter Jay Paul Deratany, will attend the festival. qFLIX is highlighting independent queer films like “Saugatuck Cures” and “Tiger Orange” because Cardwell said he “wanted to give access to these filmmakers and audiences who may not see these films otherwise. We wanted to program it so there was a lot of new material for folks to see, judge and enjoy.” Another exciting aspect of qFLIX is its emphasis on web series and webisodes. Cardwell said he is distinguishing his festival by giving attention to “new media” while also giving budding young filmmakers access to audiences. A program of 20 webisodes will play during the festival and there will be panels on producing these series. Sonia Blangiardo‘s Emmy-nominated “Tainted Dreams” will have its world premiere in Philadelphia at the fest, as will the final episode of College Emmy-winning local filmmaker Michael Busza’s series, “One of the Guys.” Of trans interest is the webseries “Man Who Takes The Place of” by Taylor A. Shuster and Samuel Angus Campbell. Other local filmmakers who will participate in qFLIX include Jon Ristaino, who will show his road-trip documentary web series “Jon and Avi’s Adventure,” and comedian Eric Kwaznjuk’s documentary “The Cape of Good Humor,” about his search to find his ancestors in South Africa, and determine what makes people laugh. Cardwell is also excited about the U.S. premiere of “Changed,” a short film by local filmmaker Jordan Fraser about family that debuted at Cannes earlier this year. “I’m anxious to have Jordan talk about his experiences,” Cardwell said. For fans of foreign queer cinema, a Spanish-language showcase will include Mexican filmmaker Julian Hernandez’s latest feature, “I am Happiness on Earth,” about a queer filmmaker and his erotic affairs on and off camera, and “Four Moons,” about four stages in the life of gay men. Other programs include a screening of Frank Ripploh’s 1980 German queer classic “Taxi Zum Klo” about a gay schoolteacher, played by Ripploh. To get the word out — and to get audiences ready for qFLIX — the festival has produced a promo trailer starring local drag mafia queenpin Brittany Lynn, who romps through the Gayborhood singing a Leslie Gore song with area bartenders and other members of the LGBT community appearing in various vignettes. To see the promo trailer and for more information about the festival, visit http://www.qflixphilly.com/.
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State agency: No public hearing in Morris appeal
by Timothy Cwiek
Aug 21, 2014 | 8 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The state Office of Open Records this week denied PGN’s request for a public hearing in its appeal for key records in the Nizah Morris case. The paper wants the agency to direct the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office to release computer-assisted dispatch records relating to the Morris case. PGN requested a public hearing to ensure careful scrutiny of the facts, prior to rendering a decision. Instead, the open-records agency said it will decide the appeal on written submissions. But it agreed to set new deadlines, to ensure PGN can respond to a submission the D.A.’s Office is expected to have filed by Aug. 21, the day after this PGN edition went to press. The paper will have until 5 p.m. Aug. 26 to respond to the D.A.’s submission. A final determination by the agency will be issued on or before Oct. 10, the agency said. The paper seeks all dispatch records in the D.A.’s possession pertaining to a vehicle stop initiated by Officer Elizabeth Skala during the early-morning hours of Dec. 22, 2002. Shortly before the vehicle stop, Skala gave Morris a courtesy ride in Center City. Minutes after the ride, the transwoman was found with blunt-force trauma to her head. Skala’s unrelated vehicle stop took place near 13th and Market streets, while she was still assigned to handle Morris, who was extremely inebriated. It’s believed that dispatch records for the vehicle stop could help explain why Morris’ initial police-tracking numbers were voided at the 911 call center. Voiding those tracking numbers cleared the way for responding officers to file paperwork that didn’t mention the courtesy ride, nor the subsequent assault. Despite repeated questioning by members of the public, local authorities have never explained why the tracking numbers were voided. The state’s open-records agency rarely holds public hearings, said Melissa B. Melewsky, medial law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association. “The relatively small staff and large case load of the [agency] make it difficult for them to hold hearings,” Melewsky said. “But hearings can be a useful tool for litigants who have complex cases where testimony given under oath would be helpful. There’s really no substitute for cross-examining a witness, and the affidavit process leaves much to be desired from a litigation standpoint. It’s also helpful for a higher court — since a full record of the hearing becomes part of the official record that would be reviewed in the event of an appeal.” Ensuring that PGN has an opportunity to respond to the D.A.’s submission was a positive step on the part of the agency, Melewsky added. “Granting the requester a chance to respond can make up for some of what lacks in a proceeding where there’s no hearing,” she noted. “Ultimately, it’s in the public interest to develop as good a record as possible in every case.” The D.A.’s Office has issued conflicting statements about possessing dispatch records relating to the Morris case. In a Nov. 5 email, the D.A.’s Office stated that “after a reasonable search, the District Attorney’s Office is not in possession of any CAD records related to the death of Nizah Morris.” In a July 29 letter, the D.A.’s Office stated that it has a dispatch “report.” But the office didn’t release the “report,” it didn’t say whether the “report” pertains to Skala’s vehicle stop and it didn’t supply an attestation under penalty of perjury that it has no additional records for the vehicle stop. The Morris homicide remains unsolved. Last year, the city’s Police Advisory Commission recommended state and federal probes of the case, citing an “appalling” local investigation. Shortly after the PAC’s recommendation, Morris advocates formed the Justice for Nizah committee, which seeks a probe by state Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane. The next J4N meeting will be held 6 p.m. Oct. 27 at the William Way LGBT Community Center, 1315 Spruce St.
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