When Ed Hermance, the owner America’s oldest gay bookstore, announced earlier this year that after 35 years he was getting out of the book business, he said he would not leave Giovanni’s Room or the building in Philadelphia to just anybody.
After decades of providing a safe haven both intellectually and physically for the gay community at 13th and Pine streets, he did not want it all to disappear just because of the demise of bricks-and-mortar bookstores.
Earlier this week, he signed a two-year lease with Philly AIDS Thrift, a charity shop that resells donated material to benefit AIDS and HIV programs. A few years ago, it successfully expanded into a double-wide storefront at Fifth and Bainbridge streets, becoming something of a retail and cultural phenomenon itself. Its owners say it raises about $20,000 a month.
Its new location on Pine Street will still sell new and used books, as well as distinctive items selected from Philly AIDS Thrift’s inventory.
“He’s created this wonderful space and I think we’re sort of similar,” said PAT co-founder Christina Kallas-Saritsoglou. “We have all walks of life. We’ve created this safe place for the community to come and dwell. I just think it would be a wonderful combination.”
Philly AIDS Thrift will also operate the Giovanni’s Room mail-order website, queerbooks.com. Kallas-Saritsoglou plans to continue hosting author readings and community events at the store.