Community Support for Giovanni's Room Continues

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Last summer, Giovanni’s Room, the oldest gay and lesbian bookstore in the country, asked customers for help with a large-scale renovation. Not only did the Philadelphia bookstore get overwhelming support from both customers and authors, but their support has also been ongoing.

In July 2009, bookstore owner Ed Hermance could no longer wait to repair a badly damaged exterior brick wall that was in danger of collapsing, but Giovanni’s Room couldn’t afford the $50,000 cost of construction. So Hermance appealed to customers. The biggest source of donations, he said, was people sponsoring the store by paying $50 for a brick or $500 for a lintel. Giovanni’s Room also held a fundraising event during “Outfest,” Philadelphia’s celebration of National Coming Out Day. Forty-two thousand dollars has been raised so far, and fundraising efforts continue.

Over the winter Edmund White participated in a benefit dinner, and Christopher Rice was the guest of honor for a cocktail party. “In the middle of a snowstorm, we still had about 40 to 50 people,” said Hermance.

Giovanni’s Room was founded in 1973 by Tom Weinberg, Dan Sherbo, and Bern Boyle; Hermance bought it from them in ’76. When the building housing the original location was sold in 1979, the new landlords refused to lease to a gay and lesbian bookstore. Other area landlords were equally unwilling. The bookstore turned to its community, which provided enough in donations for a down payment to buy a building and then helped renovate it. “More than 100 people helped renovate. They took out walls, put in a skylight,” said Hermance, who has since bought a neighboring building.

The most recent rescue reminded him of the one in 1979. “We wouldn’t be here if the homophobes didn’t force us to buy a building," Hermance said. "We never would have been able to afford this place if we had to rent it.

“Thirty years later we had that same kind of amazing energy with people coming forward and raising money to pay for the wall. We don’t have that kind of money. I think it’s fabulous that the community is still working hard to let us continue.”