PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — As Pride Month continues, the longest-running LGBTQIA+ bookstore in the United States is celebrating its 50th year anniversary in business. Inside Giovanni’s Room shelves are packed with stories but one stands out amongst the rest.
The 1956 book with the store’s namesake by author James Baldwin.
“It was also, I believe, one of the first like big American gay novels,” Katharine Milon said.
Milon co-manages the store now. She says the business’s own story starts in 1973 after three friends were inspired to create a space for the LGBTQIA+ community.
Sometime during the late 70s to the early 80s, the store moved into this old antique storage building on 12th Street.
“Basically, when they moved in it was renovated entirely by volunteers from the Gayborhood,” she said.
As the years passed, the store became an essential fixture within the neighborhood by providing access to LGBTQIA+ literature.
“It’s a very powerful symbol and I’m glad it exists for people who need it,” employee Ross Pannebecker said.
But then came 2014 and the shift to online shopping nearly closed down the store.
“Then Philadelphia AIDS Thrift came in,” Milon said. “They’re a local nonprofit and they were like you guys are a pillar of the community. We cannot allow you to close.”
Philly AIDS Thrift implemented a half-thrift business model to keep the store afloat.
“It makes it very much a neighborhood store where you can come for the books or the clothes, or the vinyl, or the CDs or tapes,” Milon said.
Regardless of all the ups and downs, the memories made throughout the years serve as a constant reminder to employees and the community who are now looking back at 50 years in business.
“To see people who have told me, ‘Oh, I’ve spent my teenage years here. I’ve spent my 20s here or this was the center of my life in the 70s and 80s and it’s still here. I can still come back and greet those memories,'” Milon said. “That’s a wonderful thing to be a part of.”
The bookstore’s celebration for its 50th anniversary will be taking place at the block on 12th and Pine Saturday from noon to 5 p.m.