Giovanni’s Room to Get Historical Marker

The Pa. Historical Commission approves a marker for the longtime LGBT bookstore

Courtesy of Giovanni's Room

Ever since it opened in 1973, Giovanni’s Room has not only been a bookstore, but a meeting place for gays and lesbians from Philadelphia and around the world. And while many other longtime LGBT bookshops have since closed their doors, Giovanni’s Room is now one of the oldest operating gay bookstores in the country.

That why the Philly outpost is being honored this year with a historical marker from the Pa. Historical Commission, says Gloria Casarez, Philadelphia’s director of LGBT Affairs for the Mayor’s Office. She says the marker will be placed on the facade of the store, which is named after James Baldwin’s breakthrough second novel about a gay man living abroad.

Casarez is one of many locals who wrote letters of support for this important recognition. Others include Meryl Levitz, president and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp., an organization that first launched the biggest LGBT tourism campaign in the country; Mark A. Segal, publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News; Tami Sortman, president of the Philadelphia Gay Tourism Caucus; and Fanny Price, executive director of Philly Pride Presents, a group that organizes gay pride and other LGBT events each year.

Courtesy of GPTMC

Ed Hermance, Giovanni Room’s owner, says he is humbled by the recognition. He credits the many volunteers and employees at the store over the last 37 years who have helped Giovanni’s Room survive despite increasing challenges being faced by many independent bookstores.

In 1979, loyal customers and friends even donated funds to purchase the building where the store currently operates when no one else would rent space to a gay bookstore. And most recently, Hermance says supporters stepped up to donate to a $50,000 reconstruction fund to rebuild the front wall of the store. He’s received donations, he admits, from hundreds of people – and not just from Philadelphia.

Hermance says Giovanni’s Room has been an example for how other LGBT bookstores should be managed and says that people from around the world have visited the shop over the years. Every manager of London’s gay bookstore Gay’s the Word has come to stay with Hermance and work at Giovanni’s Room – as have folks from Berlin’s famous Eisenherz.

Hermance hopes people aren’t fooled by the small storefront. While it’s an adventure weaving through the stacks to find that perfect read, Giovanni’s Room also updates its website each week with a database that allows customers to order from more than 2.3 million different titles online. Three million e-book titles are also available for select e-readers – except the Kindle. Hermance admits he doesn’t have much love for “For at least a year, the first book suggested on the subject of homosexuality,” says Hermance, “was A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality.”

What makes Giovanni’s Room a real jewel in Philadelphia isn’t the inventory or the vast online options available to anyone interested in learning about LGBT life, but the people and the place itself who give the local community a chance to meet in an increasingly digital world.

Giovanni’s Room also connects readers with well-known LGBT authors – as many as 50 or more – each year. A who’s who of the literary world has stopped by the shop at one time or another – and chances are that favorite book – already autographed from one of these legendary readings – is nestled in a shelf.

A ceremony will be held at the bookstore when the historical marker is placed this year. Stay tuned to G Philly for the date and time.