By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Giovanni’s Room, at 12th and Pine in Philadelphia’s Gayborhood, is the oldest continuously operated LGBT bookstore in the country. The store’s owner is putting the icon up for sale.
At nearly 40 years old, Giovanni’s Room was out when many in the LGBT community were not.
“In a day when the gay bars had black windows and non-descript doors, the whole point of the store was to be open,” says Ed Hermance, 73. He announced last week that he’s retiring and will sell Giovanni’s Room after owning it for 37 years. Hermance says sales began declining ever since big-box Borders moved into town and things have gotten worse because the store’s QueerBooks.com site prices are higher than bargain retailer Amazon.com.
“It’s really hard to compete,” says Hermance, “we have to make a profit to go on.”
Hermance says he’s thought of turning the store into a cafe, but it would require a significant investment. Since he lacks both capital and interest, he says he’s ready to pass the store on to owners with more money and new ideas.
“It’s a job of a lifetime, but I can’t make it work anymore,” he says. “This place needs a new energy.”
But Hermance is optimistic. The gay community has supported the store over the decades, loaning him the money for the down payment to buy the building. He says supporters also helped remodel parts of the store, which has been run at least partially by volunteers since it opened in 1973.
“People love this place,” he says, “many, many have said, ‘I walked around this block for a year, before I got up the nerve to come in.’ Coming in meant they were willing to admit they were interested in what we had to offer. It was almost like coming out.”
Hermance says he’s received about eight inquiries from potential purchasers, but he’s going to be selective in choosing the new owner.
“It would be crazy for me to let people stumble into this, not really knowing what they’re doing,” says Hermance. “I want to make sure they know what we do here and that they have the finances to make this place successful.”
Hermance is hoping to keep the building, which he owns, and rent out the space to the new owner. He says after he’s gone, proceeds from the sale of the building will go to Delaware Legacy Fund, which provides funding for LGBT organizations.
“The community built this institution and it really doesn’t belong to me,” says Hermance.
As for whether he’ll miss it?
“No,” he says, chuckling, “but I may come back and volunteer after it’s sold.”