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What lies ahead for Giovanni's Room

Philly Aids Thrift received a $10K award from the IBA to further support a new chapter for Giovanni's Room, one of the oldest LGBT bookstores in the country.

A $10,000 award to a non-profit from the Independence Business Alliance (IBA)? It is so and for good reason. Philadelphia’s defacto Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce has awarded its PNC Bank LGBT Business Award to Philadelphia AIDS Thrift and it is mildly unprecedented.

Previous awards have gone to a fitness business (in 2012 to Unite Fitness), retailers (Metro Men’s Clothing in 2013), bars and restaurants (Gold Standard Café in West Philly in 2015 and Rittenhouse’s Stir Lounge last year), but this one’s exceptional in part because it honors the legacy of Giovanni’s Room in Center City. Giovanni’s Room, one of the very last standing and longest-running LGBT bookstores in the entire country, was kept afloat when Philly AIDS Thrift intervened last year.

“Even though Amazon is the big goliath, there are plenty of people who want to support an LGBT business, especially a business like ours where proceeds go to supporting HIV and AIDS organizations,” Philly AIDS Thrift board member Roy DeLaMar told us. “IBA saw value in what we do obviously, which we appreciate. In the ten years we’ve been open we’ve donated $1.5 million to organizations in the Delaware Valley. They saw our model working and they wanted to invest in it.”

“[They] laid out a plan to bolster future viability and growth of their second location, Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room by taking their online business to scale,” said IBA’s executive director, Zach Wilcha.
It’s true – AIDS Thrift proposed a very specific use for the $10k – and that’s paying special attention to AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room’s web presence, Queerbooks.com’s ease of use, and optimizing its SEO. It’s not the sexiest use of money, DeLaMar agrees, but it is absolutely necessary in 2016.

“Once upon a time there were LGBT bookstores in every city,” DeLaMar laments, citing the beacons like Chicago’s Women & Children First and the late greats, Oscar Wilde Bookshop in the West Village or A Different Light on Santa Monica Blvd. in LA’s Silver Lake neighborhood. “A brick-and-mortar bookstore is a challenge and it’s not an easy business to be in right now,” he says and they’ve seen orders from around the world.

When Philly AIDS Thrift took over Giovanni’s Room at 345 S. 12th St. they honored Ed Hermance’s book-loving legacy by keeping much of the shop’s focus on new and used books. But courting web business was never his forte, per se. Philly AIDS Thrift, on the other hand, has nearly cornered the market on converting kind donations into a profit (and doing so with an extraordinarily unique flair for the fabulous).

“[We’re] a unique model. Yes, we’re a non-profit operating in the healthcare arena but we’re not a service provider,” DeLaMar explains and points out that, at their iconic 710 S. Fifth St. location, they regularly bringing confidential and rapid HIV-testing stations for customers at their own expense. “We’re the best of both worlds and our numbers are active, our books are clean, and it’s been that way since the beginning,” says DeLaMar. “We’re a well-run, successful business that does incredible good with our profits. I can’t think of a better model.”

For more on Giovanni's Room, visit: www.phillyaidsthriftatgiovannisroom.com.

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