“I’ve been looking for a successor for 25 years,” said Ed Hermance, age 73, who has run Giovanni’s Room in Philadelphia, Pa., for the past four decades, and hasn’t taken a salary since he went on social security in 2007. “It just can’t go on like this.” Between working for no pay and the 3,000 sq. ft. store losing money, Hermance said that it’s time for him to move on. “There are certainly things I look forward to doing and not doing,” he added. Although the proprietor of the country’s oldest LGBT bookstore doesn’t have a firm date in mind, he said that he would likely keep the store open until the second weekend in January if a buyer doesn’t come forward.
Hermance, who is handling the sale himself, said that he’d be willing to sell the store and its inventory—it has a database of 48,000 titles, but closer to 7,000 titles in stock—and the two buildings separately. He suggested that someone might want to take the store and move it to another location within downtown Philadelphia. Another possibility is that a group of buyers might purchase the 3,000 sq. ft. store, as they did with the Glad Day Bookshop in Toronto, the oldest LGBT bookstore in North America, which was founded in 1970. “That is the same spirit that started these stores,” said Hermance. “The founders weren’t entrepreneurs. It took a community.” Giovanni’s Room was initially run by volunteers when it was founded in 1973 and continued to be all-volunteer for the first three years under Hermance.
Although the community of Philadelphia supported Giovanni’s Room three years ago when Hermance needed $50,000 to rebuild a wall, he sees the attachment as more of an “emotional” one. “People don’t need us as much as they used to,” he said. “It’s true we give unique services, but not to as many people.” He said that more than half of the money came from people who don’t even come to the store twice a year. Off the top of his head, he estimated that the store’s revenue was only $280,000 last year.
Hermance attributes part of Giovanni’s Room’s woes to discounting on Amazon. He blamed the online retailer for destroying the market place by selling books at below cost and offering free freight. He also compared his situation to that of Larry Robin, owner of Robin’s Books, which had been the city’s oldest bookstore when it closed at the end of December last year. Robins also owned his building, but it wasn’t enough to create the cash flow he needed to keep it open. The community helped Hermance and his then business partner Arleen Olsham purchase one of the store’s two buildings in 1979. Hermance bought the second building so that the store could expand in the 1980s.
Hermance plans to continue the store’s author series this fall and is particularly excited about having both Christopher Rice, author of The Heavens Rising, and Julia Serano, author of Excluded, in October. Going forward, he plans to live off the income that a sale and/or the rental of the buildings would bring. When he dies, Hermance said that he will donate the money back to the Delaware Legacy Fund, which gives LGBT grants.
Interested buyers should e-mail Hermance.