The corner bookstore. Some say it’s a dying business. Others remain faithful to its shelves. At one time, there were more than 20 independent bookstores in Philadelphia, and now that number appears to be dropping.
But that doesn’t take away from their appeal.
For Christina M. Molieri, Giovanni’s Bookstore is the best place to shop. “What I love about the bookstore is that it is one of the oldest gay-owned and operated independent bookstores in the U.S., and they are a huge community supporter. It’s a store that one can go to find info on the community … and pretty much find any piece of literature they need, gay or straight.”
Giovanni’s Bookstore, located at 345 S. 12th St., specializes in gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender literature, but also carries popular women authors. Since its 1973 establishment on South Street, it has doubled in size.
“It’s our business to know about books,” said Ed Hermance, owner of Giovanni’s since 1976, who enthusiastically enumerates some of their customers’ favorite authors.
He said when the store opened, it carried less than 100 titles. They now stock nearly 12,000 books in their two-story corner store and, because of their strong trade base, if they don’t have it, they can get it.
Not far away from Giovanni’s Bookstore is Robin’s Bookstore, located at 108 S. 13th St., which carries the largest selection of black literature and poetry in the city. A simple step inside the store attests to that fact: The first wall of books is devoted to black interests.
“My niche is minority, left wing and literate people,” said Robin, the store owne. He added that education and literacy are the impetus to change.
“Literacy is a combination of language and thought,” Robin said. “Literacy is a much bigger thing than being able to read at a third-grade level. Literacy is being able to express yourself.”
Through his many store events, Robin attempts to bring this education to his customers, who he hopes leave the events enlightened about the issues discussed. Though there is a certain amount of repetition in their programs, such as the bimonthly “Women’s Writing and Spoken Word Series,” many of their events are based on which authors are on tour and which fit with the store’s political mission.
That mission is very familiar to Tim Kozak and the other collective owners of Wooden Shoe Books, 508 S. 5th St., an anarchist bookstore located just off South Street, who reported that the store has seen an increase in anti-Bush and radical customers lately.
In a shop not much bigger than two dorm rooms, Wooden Shoe fits more than 2,000 items, including books, music, pamphlets, magazines, T-shirts, stickers and more. They carry authors such as Zinn and Chomsky and postcards featuring everything from feminist cartoons to anti-war messages.
Because the store is collectively owned – after attending two consecutive meetings interested persons undergo three training sessions before receiving their store key – the literature is eclectic, reflecting each owner’s individual passions.
The store also tables at political events and even punk rock concerts, along with working to bring political and social awareness to the community. Currently, Kozak is helping to plan a table for the Zapatista’s Benefit on April 2.
Though the efforts of independent bookstores may at times seem nominal, it’s their care and dedication that keeps them in business and in the position to facilitate positive change.
“We’re just trying to help make Philly better,” Kozak said, “through books and education in general.”
Sara Getz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org