Facade of Giovanni's Room doned with Progress Pride flags.
News type
Human Connection

How the oldest gay bookstore in the U.S. reinvented itself

When Giovanni’s Room opened in 1973, it was only the second LGBTQ bookstore in the country. It came right after New York’s Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop, which suffered a drop in sales and closed in 2009. That left Philly’s queer literature outpost as the oldest in the nation—and it played a pivotal role in the lives of many.

With backing from secondhand shop Philly AIDS Thrift, plus a team of staffers and volunteers, Alan Chelak took over the storied bookstore and turned it back into a success. He mixed up the business model and made the selection more inclusive — and actually started turning a profit. The two stories of books are fully stocked again, and the exterior is draped with LGBTQ works of public art.

Photography by: Kimberly Paynter for WHYY