The country’s oldest LGBT bookstore, Giovanni’s Room, will close May 17.
Ed Hermance, who has owned the store for 38 years, announced his plans for retirement in the fall and planned to sell both the business and the two buildings it encompasses. He announced a potential sale agreement several weeks ago, but said the buyer could not come up with enough money to finalize it.
Hermance said he made the difficult decision to close the store several days ago. Since the beginning of the year, Hermance said he had lost between $10,000-$15,000 in keeping the store open.
He blamed retailers such as Amazon for the tough environment for independent bookstores.
“The government is allowing Amazon to tighten their fingers around the throats of the publishers and drive their retail competitors out of the business by clearly monopolistic methods,” he said.
Hermance said there is a possibility that Giovanni’s Room could be resurrected in some form, but that ideas would have to change in order for it to be successful.
“Whatever it is that they do, it will have to be something different than what we are doing now. It won’t survive if it isn’t different,” he said.
The store, at the corner of 12th and Pine, has an inventory of more than 48,000 books and also offers 5-million books online and 3.5 million eBooks.
Hermance had been hoping to sell the business for $100,000 and the buildings for up to $750,000.
He said he still intends to give proceeds made from the rental or sale of the buildings to Delaware Valley Legacy Fund upon his death.
The bookstore moved twice before inhabiting its current Gayborhood location, originally on South Street, before moving to the 1400 block of Spruce Street.
Giovanni’s Room had events scheduled after May 17 and Hermance said he will try his hardest to find another venue for those events. The store has four employees, including Hermance. The one full-time employee, who has been with the bookstore for 35 years, will be eligible to collect unemployment.
News of the impending closing spread quickly this week, and elicited disappointment from all corners of the country.
PGN writer and “Independent Queer Cinema” author Gary Kramer said the closing marks the end of an era.
Kramer first encountered the bookstore in the early 1990s after having lunch with a store employee.
“It is often the case that folks circle around the block before they get up the nerve to go into a queer bookstore for the first time,” Kramer said. “I had been invited and so that made it easier.”
Kramer said he instantly connected with the first book he got from Giovanni’s Room called “The Best Little Boy in the World.”
“The book had some meaning to me: It was a coming-out story but, more importantly, the book symbolized this store — what folks often call a ‘safe space.’ That spoke to me and my interests, literary and otherwise.”
Kramer has subsequently attended a wealth of readings and events at Giovanni’s Room and even hosted his own reading there for “Independent Queer Cinema.”
“I found that seeing these authors and getting a sense of them in that cozy space was one of the best things about Giovanni’s Room,” he said. “You can’t get that intimacy in other bookstores or the Free Library. This may be what I miss most about the store closing.”
Spruce Street Video owner Franny Price said the closing of a small business like Giovanni’s Room is unsettling.
“I have a small business so I’m a little scared too,” she said.
Hermance said the loss of the iconic store will be hard for him, as well as for the community.
“It has been a wonderful life for me and it combines my best skills with my deepest interests, so it certainly is going to be a lifetime’s work. I know that thousands of people have used and cared about this store. It is very emotional for me.”