Philadelphia Gay Bookstore ‘Giovanni’s Room’ Turns 35

In the age of Amazon, the gay (and generally, the independently owned) bookstore has become all but extinct, but Philadelphia’s Giovanni’s Room has been kept alive by its proprietor Ed Hermance and former business partner Arleen Olshan, with blood, sweat, and tears.

Giovannis_2The Philadelphia Inquirer reports:

“Most Philadelphians are unaware that Giovanni’s is the second-oldest gay-and-lesbian bookstore in the country, behind only New York’s Oscar Wilde Bookshop, launched in 1967. Through six owners, three locations and countless volunteers, Giovanni’s has come to represent far more to the city’s gay community than a bibliophilic rainbow flag. ‘Growing up in the city, it was one of the first places where I found people like me and a sense of community,’ says Gloria Casarez, 36, the Mayor’s Office liaison to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. Giovanni’s has 12,000 titles in its active inventory. It holds 50 readings a year. It serves as an information clearinghouse, a crisis center, even a research library. ‘We’ve graduated many Ph.D’s,’ Olshan, 63, says proudly. At its current site since 1979, the bookstore is carved out of an 1880 building designed as a mom-and-pop store with living quarters. Hermance and Olshan bought it for $50,000, borrowing the down payment from their customers.”

As for Hermance, who worries about who his successor might be: “The hero has simple needs. He still lives in the Powelton Village house he bought 32 years ago for $7,000. The furniture is all second hand, except for a 10-year-old dining room table. He lives on Social Security and an inheritance from his mother, he says. He owns one suit, last worn in 1975 for a job interview.”

Giovanni’s Room [official site]
Phila. gay bookstore Giovanni’s Room marks 35 years [inquirer]


  1. Derrick from Philly says

    I made my first visit to Giovanni’s Room in 1980. The atmosphere in the place made you comfortable being gay. Also, there was a feeling of racial equality (probably to the credit of Ed Hermance and Joseph Beam). When you’ve had enough of the bars, dance clubs, streets, etc., Giovanni’s Room is the one institution in Philadelphia that provides encouragement for all gay people.

    Ed was always nice to me…even when he smelled Bourbon on my breath. Bless his soul.

  2. titus says

    though i have never had the chance to visit philly or giovanni’s room, it has always been high on my list. here in central florida we have lost three bookstores one’s in tampa, st pete and orlando. i was fortunate enough when i lived in atlanta to be able to walk to outwrite. one never has enough books and i miss the ones i loaned out. may you remain strong giovanni’s room and hopefully i will visit you one day.

  3. the queen says

    now miss derrick, i don’t want you to worry about the economy what with all these fag bookstores closing… if you don’t have any money to buy books you can always get that hattie mcdaniel maid’s uniform out of mothballs and come work for me… consuelo got deported so i could use some help around the house 😉

  4. says

    I only wish the article would have included informaton on how to order books at Giovanni’s Room. Last I checked, they were offering $5 shipping no matter how many books you ordered at

  5. Derrick from Philly says

    The great Hattie MacDaniel played maids in the movies. In real life, there certain types of white people she wouldn’t even speak to let alone consider working for. I think in “Gone With The Wind”, as Mammy, she called them “white trash”.

    You’re in bad spirits today, dear. Never fall asleep without removing the toy. It obviously sends bad vibes all through the body–from the bottom up.

  6. Matt says

    This was the very first gay place I visited as an openly gay kid. I’ll never forget all the feelings this place inspired in me…from a place to meet other gays to a place to read all about my history and culture. Thanks for keeping this place kicking!

  7. Matt says

    This was the very first gay place I visited as an openly gay kid. I’ll never forget all the feelings this place inspired in me…from a place to meet other gays to a place to read all about my history and culture. Thanks for keeping this place kicking!

  8. SammySeattle says

    I bought my first gay-themed novel at Giovanni’s Room, The Front Runner, and years later met Patricia Nell Warren when she was there to promote Harlen’s Race.

  9. Derrick from Philly says

    “now now dear… it was just a joke. ya know i love you.. we are sisters after all…”

    Yes, love ya’ too, Baby Jane. And I’ll treat you just the way Hattie MacDaniel treated Barbara Stanwyck’s society girlfriends in “The Mad Mrs Manton”. Remember Hattie saying to the uppity young white women, “The kitchen’s closed for the evenin’–so get out.”

  10. yeahisaidit says

    …just wanted to say if anyone out there gets a chance, take the time to read the book, by james baldwin, that this store is named after…”giovanni’s room..” …it’s an openly gay love story about someone who is not openly gay and his affair with a parisian boy with the city of light as a backdrop…first published in 1958, “brokeback mountian” has nothing on this story…i could not believe baldwin had the balls to publish something so thrilling, touching, tragic, open and lovely at that time…if done properly, it too should be adapted to the screen…i have to read it every couple years over again and it takes me there every time…please enjoy…

  11. Harry says

    I remember my mother taking me to Giovanni’s room back in 1979, I was only 10yrs old. She had slowy come out of the closet after a rough marriage. I can still visualize the blue walls and shelves with books on them. Little did I know that ten years later, I would come out of the closet and Giovanni’s room would play a part in my life. Thank you Ed for all you have done for the community.

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