Just a short five years ago, gay bibliophiles in San Francisco, Nashville, West Hollywood, Atlanta, D.C., New York City and Philadelphia could count on the magic of an indie gay bookstore in their hometowns. By the end of the weekend, all seven of those cities will have officially lost their local LGBT bookstore.
The last one to go will be Giovanni’s Room in Philadelphia, whose owner Ed Hermance told Philadelphia Gay News that the bookshop he’s owned for 38 years will close its doors on May 17.
“It has been a wonderful life for me and it combines my best skills with my deepest interests, so it certainly is going to be a lifetime’s work. I know that thousands of people have used and cared about this store. It is very emotional for me,” Hermance said.
News of the oldest surviving LGBT bookstore shutting down prompted Steve Berman, publisher of Lethe Press and a friend of Hermance, to pen a personal essay that tied the demise of these shops to the tragic state of the gay publishing industry as a whole.
Berman writes that this epidemic has been slow, but no one would argue that Amazon certainly has played an important part in accelerating the LGBT bookstore death toll. Certainly not Hermance, who was quoted in the PGN as saying, “The government is allowing Amazon to tighten their fingers around the throats of the publishers and drive their retail competitors out of the business by clearly monopolistic methods.”
Furthermore, Berman argues that Amazon’s capitalistic raid on physical retailers is not the sole culprit.
“The community has failed the local bookstore,” he writes. “I remember working the front counter of Giovanni’s Room and men and women entering the store at all hours asking to hang posters or leave fliers for their LGBT event or cause. We always agreed and gave them space. And how many of these individuals would then walk around the store. None. We would get people associated with functions and charities and socials approaching Ed for gift certificates to offer as door prizes or silent auctions. And he would never refuse. And after he handed the certificate over, out the door they went.”
I worked at San Francisco’s branch of A Different Light, right up to the point it closed its doors in 2011, and I completely agree with Berman on this one. Many, many niche bookshops — quirky, tiny, fragile hidden worlds behind unassuming doors — have survived (even thrived!) against the beast that Amazon dot com.
For an LGBT bookstore to survive in this day and age, it needs to count with the unwavering financial support of the community for which it aims to be a hub.