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Oldest gay bookstore in America Giovanni’s Room to re-open as AIDS charity shop

Philadelphia’s Giovanni’s Room gay book store, opened in 1973, will reopen as a charity store for Philly AIDS Thrift and will retain the original name
Giovanni's Room bookstore in Philadelphia
Photo by Smallbones

The oldest surviving LGBTI bookstore in the United States will reopen again as a center for LGBTI life after the owner of Philadelphia’s Giovanni’s Room Bookstore sold the store and its buildings to fund his retirement.

Giovanni’s Room, named after the gay themed James Baldwin novel of the same name, was opened by business partners Tom Wilson Weinberg, Dan Sherbo and Bern Boylethe in 1973 and became widely known as the ‘center of gay Philly.’

Three years later the business was sold to Ed Hermance and Arleen Oshan.

The book store was forced to move frequently in its early years due to homophobic landlords before finding a permanent home on the corner of 12th and Pine Streets after loans from customers and Hermance’s mother allowed them to buy the building.

By 1986 the store was so profitable it was able to expand into the building next door but sales began to decline in the early 1990’s and eventually the business became unprofitable.

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission unveiled a marker commemorating the book store’s role in the LGBTI civil rights movement in the state in October of 2011, but Hermance, the sole remaining owner of the business, announced his retirement plans in April of this year, and it closed its doors on 17 May.

However HIV charity Philly AIDS Thrift announced this month that it had secured the lease on the building and will open a thrift and book store on the site that will continue the LGBTI community legacy of Giovanni’s Room.

The store will be called Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room, and the charity’s manager Alan Chelak hopes to continue to host readings and other community events that were held in the store over many years.

Philly AIDS Thrift is a 501(c)3 charity that has donated almost $900,000 to HIV/AIDS organizations since opening in 2005.

Its original thrift store in Queen Village, Philadelphia will continue to operate as usual.

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