Nation’s Oldest LGBT Bookstore Announces Closure In May

Ed Hermance, the owner of the nation’s oldest gay bookstore, has thrown in the towel and confirmed that the store will be closing its doors next month.

Giovanni’s Room, located in Philadelphia, was founded in 1973. The bookstore caters to the LGBT community and offers transgender, bisexual, and gay literature. Frequent shoppers and visitors of the store describe it as a safe place where the gay community can gather. Hermance said that the store has “a very strong emotional connection” to their customers.

At the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, Giovanni’s Room became a safe haven for many who have been diagnosed with the disease. It was a location where they sought and found the emotional support they needed during their battle.

The gay bookstore was named after Giovanni’s Room, a James Baldwin novel that was published in 1956. The novel is set in Paris and revolves around a young man who is struggling with his sexuality.

Giovanni’s Room previously had two branches in Philadelphia. The remaining bookstore is located in the city’s Gayborhood area. Hermance, together with his business partner, borrowed the money that they used to purchase a two-story rowhouse in 1979, as they learned that landlords were not too keen on the idea of having a gay bookstore for a lessee. After 7 years, they purchased the rowhouse beside the location in order to expand the store.

Hermance told CBS Philly that Giovanni’s Room has been losing money for a while now partly because of the competition from online booksellers and large retailers like Amazon.

Hermance, 73, has owned Giovanni’s Room for 38 years. Since the start of the year, he has reportedly lost $10,000 to $15,000 just by keeping the store open for their loyal customers, according to Huffington Post. Despite the closure of the bookstore, he remains optimistic that it will be resurrected in one form or another.

Hermance has been trying to save the bookstore and has been constantly looking for a buyer since August. However, he was not able to close a sale for the business and the building where it is located.

Working at the bookstore was the “job of a lifetime” for Hermance. As the bookstore’s doors are coming to a close, Hermance feels nostalgic about the customers that he has met, saying that those who entered the gay bookstore were willing to acknowledge that they were interested in what the bookstore had to offer. “It was almost like coming out,” he said.

The support from the bookstore’s customers is overwhelming, and many of them have visited the store since the announcement of the closure on Monday.

Giovanni’s Room will officially close its doors on May 17.

[Images via CBS Philly / Unpacking the Bookstore / GLBT News / 34st / Philly.com]