Sunday, May 4, 2014

GIOVANNI'S ROOM, END OF A ERA

The owner of the nation's oldest gay bookstore appears to be writing his final chapter, confirming this past Monday that he plans to close the financially troubled shop this month. It's a thought I have been fearing for some time. Giovanni's Room, founded in 1971, has been losing money "for a long time" due in part to competition from online discount booksellers, and big box booksellers said owner Ed Hermance.
 
 
Giovanni's Room is named for the 1956 James Baldwin novel about a young man in postwar Paris struggling with his sexual identity. It's believed to be the nation's oldest independent bookstore specializing in titles written by and for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. New York's Oscar Wilde bookstore had previously held the title until it closed in 2009.
Giovanni's Room had two locations in Philadelphia before moving to its current site in the city's affectionately named Gayborhood section. Ed and his business partner borrowed money to buy a two-story brick row house there in 1979.  Seven years later, they bought the row house next door and expanded the shop. Volunteers put in countless hours over the years to help out.
 
 
When I first heard the news, I wasn't shocked, but extremely sad, as I have such fond memories of the place. It was the first place I'd go to get literature when I visited Philly in the early 90's, about the gay lifestyle, and being gay, when I came out. Even thought I was always comfortable with being gay, the books helped. It was also a safe haven tucked in the gayborhood, with mostly gay shoppers, so no fear in perusing the books and magazines. One could hear readings by prominent LGBT authors including Armistead Maupin and Rita Mae Brown. During the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, Ed said, the shop was the first place some people came after being diagnosed — to find information and for emotional support. Giovanni's Room  had a great selection of music, coffee table books, your usual gay " flags and bumper stickers and fare", hard to find titles, gift selection, and a huge selection of every gay periodical known. The place was cool inside too. Two floors to travel, a swanky artistic chandlier on the second floor made by a local artisan, and the people working and shopping were always so friendly. Skip Strickler, the store's only full-time employee, has worked there for 35 years. He said he's anticipated the closing for a while now, and described it as a dignified exit. I would stop almost every time when in center city to get my periodicals and grab more books. Some I haven't even read yet!!!! They also had a great card selection. And one could always expect to see Ed and Skip there. So yesterday the Lad and I stopped in to say our good byes, it is like loosing a good friend.
 
Ed Hermanice
 
 
 To me the shop has been a wonderful gift to the LGBT community and I admired Ed's  perseverance to holding on for so long. A great and safe place for young gaylings to reach out, and find literature and solence. I sometimes feel sorry for the newer generation as I'm not sure they will ever experience this feeling.
 
 
Giovanni's Room is slated to close by mid May.
 
Thanks for the warm and fond memories Ed, and staff of Giovanni's Room. 

15 comments:

  1. I too was upset and shocked to see this, even though I saw the writing on the wall. I would go every month to get my magazines, and don't know any of my gay boys, who when coming out, didn't go there first to find books and comfort. A great place, this will change the landscape for sure down here.

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  2. This is just the reason I won't shop big box stores. I don't care how cheap they are. I feel sorry for the independent and mom and pop shops. Was never there, but it sounds like a magical place.

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  3. Great post Mistress. I go in all the time, great staff. And if they didn't have it, they'd get it. Guess I will shop online now. The corner will seem strange.

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  4. I must be getting old, because this got my teary eyed. Never been, but know right where its at. Such a service.

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  5. Amazon takes another bookstore. I really think the French English are light years ahead of the US when it comes to a good life. They protected their book stores by not allowing Amazon and the like to under price them, and now you can continue to go into quaint little book shops. Those days are over in the US. Not to mention their vacation days, national health care, and shortened work weeks

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  6. Ed Hermance is a wonderful, kind, and caring man--and when I lived in Philadelphia, there was nothing better than an afternoon spent browsing in Giovanni's Room. When it goes, a door will close on an extremely important and unforgettable part of LGBT history

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  7. I will always chose a bookstore over a website, and a book over a kindle. Sweet post Mistress.

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  8. It is bad enough that Wal-Mart and others, sensors books that legitimize gay themes, and ban them from their shelves. Losing these fabulous book stores is akin to banning independent film.

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  9. Sad. I remember traveling to Philly occasionally, and I would always stop in. Giovanni's Room had a great selection and a great atmosphere. It will be missed.

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  10. What a shame. When I was visiting Europe I was amazed at all the quaint shops they had, and much more service oriented and neighbor feel. Here in the states its sad to see. Everything is big box and land of discounts. When it comes to a fine balance of work and living, were behind them. Looks like a cute shop.

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  11. A thought-provoking post, mistress maddie.

    It is disheartening that the special little places, places that take pride in their service and where the customer is actually appreciated, are struggling to survive and forced to close. So many businesses, these days, act as if they're doing you a favour by taking your money.

    I have fond memories, similar to yours, of Little Sister's Book and Art Emporium in Vancouver. For me, walking in the door was akin to pulling on a favourite sweater.

    Giovanni's Room and others provide far more than their products, a warm atmosphere, a comfort and caring that is important to our quality of life. These things cannot be replaced.

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  12. This is a topic close to my heart. I'm saddened by the recent loss of a beautiful indie bookstore in my city. In this case, it wasn't so much the competition from the biggies but that the rent was raised beyond belief.

    My hope is that a future generation will find out that big box stores weren't always the norm and that we once had alternatives aplenty and that stores like "Giovanni's Room" had soul. That, in turn, may prompt them to try to turn things around.

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    1. I would also like to add that nothing has replaced the closed indie bookstore. The rent is too high, period. If the landlords had kept the rent affordable, that bookstore could still be there instead of the empty space it now is.

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  13. Pine street won't feel the same.

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  14. Oh how sad. America - home of the Big Box and Land of Discounts.

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Go ahead darling, tell me something fabulous!

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