Creating a Comfortable Space
A niche bookstore is, by definition, a collection of a certain type of books. As an LGBT bookstore, Giovanni’s Room concerns itself with topics relating to that theme. Though the store’s focus is specific, the lists of titles that it carries is quite extensive, and the subcategories dig into the all of the different facets of LGBT literature. By acquiring so vast a collection of books, owner Ed Hermance creates a space where everyone in the LGBT community can find a meaningful thing to help with all of the stages of an LGBT life.
The layout of Giovanni’s Room is an important part of engaging customers in this collection of books. In order to discover the meaningful things found in the bookstore, patrons must feel welcomed and comfortable shopping in this space. Below is a rough floor plan of both floors of Giovanni’s Room – hover over the pictures and click on the icons to see pictures and read little blurbs about the space.
Giovanni’s Room creates a comfortable environment right away by situating the checkout desk almost directly in front of the front door, so that employees can greet customers with a warm smile as soon as they step over the threshold, an action that symbolizes the customer joining the LGBT community. Around the checkout desk are rainbow flags, magazines, a variety of trinkets, and a few books. The immediate space around the entry, then, is filled with helpful workers, bright splashes of color, and simple magazines, so that the customers feel at ease in the very beginning of their shopping experiences before moving on to browse the more serious collection of books.
Progressing forward from the front entrance brings the customer into a room stocked with lesbian and feminist titles, including things like feminist science fiction and fantasy, lesbian fiction, and feminist criticism. Walk through the door to the left and another room is revealed, containing men’s erotica and magazines with adult content. The fact that both of these rooms are separated from the main entrance to the store lends a certain privacy to browsers. They can enjoy the fun, friendly entrance, and then proceed on to these sections to peruse the shelves of more private matters in peace.
On the second floor, the main room is very open and comfortable. Ed Hermance described it looking “like a living room” with the fireplace, cozy reading chairs, and plenty of natural light streaming in through the windows (Flynn). The types of books in this section help to characterize this area even more. The largest, most central bookcase on the left wall, facing the fireplace and reading area, is stocked with books on the history of sexuality. This case begins with books about coming out, then progresses to books about politics and society. The progression of books in this case mirrors the trajectory of someone who is newly out, providing them comfort with books about the process of coming out, and then moving on to discuss what that means in the context of today’s society. In this big central room, customers can browse general issues regarding being a member of the LGBT community, and are encouraged by presence of the cozy reading area and openness to hang around for a while, enjoying the books and the comfort of each other’s company.
The large room on the second floor of Giovanni’s Room.
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Similar to the downstairs section of the bookstore, the room that branches off of the main room provides a more closed-off space for browsing books and categories that may be more specific. In this room, there are shelves of books on bisexuality, transgender, AIDS, lesbian sexuality, and more. This layout suggests a couple of things. Firstly, it allows people to look for books on very personal themes in a place where they are not on display, as they would be in the large living room area. Secondly, however, and perhaps even more importantly, it ensures that people who have the same interests and who may be having somewhat parallel experiences are all in the same area, so that they might meet each other. Giovanni’s Room prides itself on having a community and on being a place where like people can meet one another and bond. By putting books on particular subjects all together in a quiet, intimate setting, it becomes all the more likely that the people shopping for them will be inclined to strike up a conversation and share experiences.
No matter how extensive the selection or specific the subcategories, however, Ed Hermance and the staff at Giovanni’s Room maintain a very well-informed knowledge of what is in their store. Hermance recalls a day when the store used to carry anything and everything pertaining to the LGBT community, but notes that since gay publishing began to become more prominent, it’s far less difficult to stock shelves. Though he tries to avoid “the temptation to become a library,” Elisabeth Flynn says that he still “feels it’s important to carry books that may not be huge sellers…’so that people get the full range of what’s available” (Flynn). There is truly something meaningful for every customer, and Hermance is deeply committed to ensuring that each person who comes through the door finds that something. As he puts it, a “its important that staff know a lot about what we have” so that they can efficiently help customers find what they are looking for, or at least point them in the right direction (Flynn).
The meaningfulness of the actual books in the store is important to note. Each one means something essential to both Hermance, as the collector, and to the customer who will eventually purchase the book. As Walter Benjamin puts it, “to a true collector the acquisition of an old book is its rebirth” (Benjamin 61). By having a vast collection of books for sale, an informed staff to help sell them, and a welcoming store environment, Giovanni’s Room guarantees that each book will experience that rebirth at the hands of someone who can really be touched by it. Benjamin’s statement that “ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects” describes the significance that something like a book can have in the life of its owner (Benjamin 67). Bill Brown elaborates on the idea of material things carrying significance, and saying that material things have “a latency (the not yet formed or the not yet formable” and “an excess (what remains physically or metaphysically irreducible to objects” (Brown 5). According to Brown’s statement, then, books as things carry tremendous potential for meaning, which influences the way they are arranged in a store and collection. In Giovanni’s Room, it’s clear that the arrangement of the books is aimed at creating a comfortable environment for people to find those things that will experience rebirth in their hands, and that will, in turn, help them experience their own rebirth as well.
Benjamin, Walter, and Hannah Arendt. Illuminations. New York: Schocken Books, 1986.
Brown, Bill. “Thing Theory.” Critical Inquiry 28.1 (2001): 1-22. JSTOR. Web. 20 Oct. 2013.
Flynn, Elisabeth. “Philadelphia Story.” Lambda Book Report 12.1/2 (2003): 36. Academic Search Complete. Web. 20 Oct. 2013.
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