Ed Hermance isn’t sure what will become of Giovanni’s Room once it’s sold, but he is sure of one thing – he’s ready to move on.
Giovanni’s Room, a gay bookstore located at 345 S. 12th St., isn’t necessarily closing its doors for good, but owner Hermance has given himself the deadline of the second weekend in January to find a new owner for the Gayborhood staple.
“I need to sell the store because we are now losing money and I can’t afford to lose money,” Hermance said. “I’m hoping we can find a buyer who has the resources to change the store in ways that will make it profitable again. That person has to have the financial resources and new ideas.”
Opening in 1973, Hermance and a business partner took ownership of the store in 1976 and in 1986 Hermance became the sole owner of Giovanni’s Room.
Currently the store sells LGBT-related books, movies, music and rainbow flags and buttons among other things.
“We do provide services that, if we are not here, then those services will not be available – mostly to the Philadelphia area, but we are an international store,” Hermance said.
He recalled a customer from Brussels that came into the store recently.
“He bought eight or 10 books and he’s coming back on Saturday and then he’s coming back in a couple of weeks after that hoping by that time we’ll have gotten more books he wants,” Hermance said. “For him, there’s no place in New York, there’s no place in Washington, we’re the only real resource he can use.”
Hermance also mentioned a young customer he has that regularly comes into the store to read, as he does not have enough money to buy the books.
“They are not books he’s going to find in the library, so he sat in [a] chair for four or five hours reading,” Hermance said. “This store has been a resource to everybody. Last week there was a young man in his mid-twenties looking for a book for his mother who is coming out. Isn’t that amazing? Where else on Earth would he go to find expert advice?”
Among the books Giovanni’s Room offers are memoirs, fiction, photography books, parenting books for LGBT parents, books about raising LGBT children and LGBT-themed children’s book.
“In 1973 there would be very few books that would be appropriate for a gay store to sell,” Hermance said. “We’re talking about a few dozen.”
A best-seller for the store is, coincidentally, “Giovanni’s Room” by James Baldwin.
“‘Giovanni’s Room’ was, I think, an inspired choice for the name of the store because that novel published in 1956 has been in print continuously in the United States since [it was released],” Hermance said. “There are not really many novels that have been in print for 60 years. James Baldwin isn’t going to go away anytime soon. There are lots of people who have never heard of him but he’s still a recognized literary figure for anyone serious about American literature. I’m really proud that I know we are encouraging people to read that book by the name of the store.”
Hermance added that because so many copies of the book were sold last month it is the No. 1 best-seller for August.
As for the future of the store, Hermance sees time will be just as big of an investment as money.
“Every shopkeeper can identify with this, it’s a ball and chain,” Hermance said. “You are responsible for everything and you can’t just go off. It’s been more than 20 years since I’ve had more than two weeks off.”
If the store eventually gets sold Hermance added that he would stay for some time to train the new owner, and possibly volunteer there in the future.
“I hope they preserve the collection, make money and intensify what we have to offer,” Hermance said.
If the store does not get sold by Hermance’s self-made deadline he said he would have sales to sell the remaining inventory and prepare the property to sell.
Whether or not Giovanni’s Room continues, Hermance is already planning his life post-Giovanni’s Room. He said he would like to go to Israel or Morocco among other places to visit connections he’s made through the book store.
“I do plan on taking this nice long overseas trip,” Hermance said. “It would be nice to have a little more air in my life. On one hand I’m into helping immigrants how to learn English, teaching school kids to learn English since I used to teach English in [a college setting].”
Hermance added, “the number of things I love about this store is endless and I really hope we can find one or more buyers who can keep it going.”
Luis Fernando Rodriguez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @theluisfernando.