Meet the Women Who Say They Came This Close to Saving Giovanni’s Room

Makella Craelius (far right) at Giovanni's Room a meeting with Kelly Burkhardt and TK. They saw a rainbow on the wall as a sign that they were moving in the right direction.

Makella Craelius (far left), and volunteers Kelly Burkhardt and Pamela Paraison meeting on the third floor of Giovanni’s Room earlier this winter. “Toward the end of the day, someone looked up and noticed a rainbow on the ceiling. We thought it was a good sign for the future of Giovanni’s Room.”

Many of us were taken by surprise last week when it was announced that Philly LGBT bookstore Giovanni’s Room would close its doors for good on May 17th. No one was more floored, however, than Makella Craelius and her business partner, Philly filmmaker, Puppett.

The ladies say they were this close to securing a deal with owner Ed Hermance, one that would allow them to rent the store with an option to buy a few years down the road. They had been working with Hermance since January, says Craelius, a 31-year-old entrepreneur with a background in architectural design and project management. There were legal documents drawn up (but never signed), future events planned, and Craelius had even hired a few people to work in the store. It looked promising that they would be the ones to carry on the legacy of our storied book house. “Then the rug was pulled from underneath us,” she says.

Despite what Craelius calls a “strong verbal agreement,” she says, “Things changed in Ed’s mind just a week or two weeks ago, and the building purchase became more of an immediate priority for him. It came as a complete surprise, given that we were already working full-time in the store.”

Hermance tells me his decision is simple: “I’ve got to sell these buildings. I don’t want to be a landlord. The basic problem is that they didn’t have the money [to buy.]”

Still, the immediacy of the decision left Craelius feeling bewildered, maybe even a little duped. In subsequent public interviews with Hernamce she says he’s disregarded her involvement. “It’s painful for me to be there,” she says, talking about a press conference Hermance gave last week. “A couple people brought up events we had planned, and he said he was entertaining sending them to Big Blue Marble Bookstore. But what’s most disappointing is that he didn’t have any answers for how the community was going to fill the void. If he had mentioned that there were these folks who … wanted to move forward with our idea to takeover Giovanni’s Room, it would have been a perfect opportunity to give us the reins to really be there for the community.”

Despite her disappointment, Craelius says she and Puppett “learned so much in the couple months we worked there. Ed and [longtime employee] Skip taught us a whole lot about running the business. We’re really grateful for that knowledge. We value that experience and really want to maintain those connections and carry on the Giovanni’s Room legacy.”

Now that she’s accepted the fact that her dreams won’t come true within the walls of the bookstore on 12th and Pine, Craelius isn’t backing down. She and Puppett have started a new business, Queer Books, LLC. They are scouting other locations in the Gayborhood, they’re planning pop-up bookstores, and they’re in the process of creating an online retail shop to sell books and other LGBT merchandise from local artists. “Giovanni’s Room has been so important in our community. A lot of people feel like it’s home, and I think we need to keep that home alive. I hope people will find meaning in a store that is somewhere else. I hope to continue the amazing work they’ve done.”

Craelius and Puppett will lead an informative session at William Way tonight called “After Giovanni’s Room: What’s Next?,” where they’ll share ideas and hope to generate more community involvement to help get their venture up and running. Stop by at 7 p.m. to learn more about what they have planned. Details here.