Think that bookstores are going extinct soon? Think again. The digital takeover of e-books is definitely still happening, yet brick-and-mortar establishments are stubbornly digging in their heels and staying put.
As a matter of fact, the American Booksellers Association reported a rather healthy 35 percent growth in the number of independent bookstores for the first half of the current decade: from 1,651 to 2,227.
The reasoning behind this phenomenon is unclear. Although, if any of these bookstores below are to be credited for returning readers to physical books, it won’t be totally implausible.
From France to China and from Portugal to Italy, there are indeed a slew of rather gorgeous bookstores that should not go unvisited. These gems will definitely make any avid reader go ecstatic.
Some people (read: devout bibliophiles) would even go so far as to say that the experience of picking out a book from such picture-perfect bookstores is a once-in-a-lifetime, incomparable experience.
Well, why don’t you judge for yourself? If a picture is believed to be worth a thousand words, then the five bookstores we have listed here are complete literary masterpieces of their own right.
Combining eclectic and art noveau style is Livraria Lello. This bookstore in Porto, Portugal, dates all the way back to 1906 – whereby it was designed and built by engineer Francisco Xavier Esteves.
The crimson staircase is particularly remarkable, an icon of sorts. Not forgetting as well the large stained glass window bearing the bookshop monogram with the motto “decus in labore” (dignity at work, in Latin).
It also has a majestic ceiling. While often mistook for carved wood, it is in fact painted plaster, a technique that was also used in the ornaments of the stairs. The first floor features art deco details on the walls and majestic rising columns.
The building was once a church. Now, it serves as a refuge for new and second-hand books of various languages. Boekhandel Dominicanen is, without a doubt, the pride of Maastricht, Netherlands.
The interior design is by architecture firm Merkx+Girod. Reopened as a bookstore in 2006, it made for a visual spectacle with the original stained-glass windows, frescos and vaults all saved and restored.
To keep the view of the height of the church, a steel a-centric “book tower” with two floors was erected. From the second floor the exposed frescos of saints, dating from 1619, are visible in the peak of the roof.
Shakespeare & Company
Named after a bookstore frequented by Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce during the 1920s, this bookstore in the heart of Paris, France, has quite a legendary reputation.
The original shop (closed during World War II) acted as a library, publisher and boarding house for aspiring writers. It was founded by American Sylvia Beach and has even been featured in Hemingway’s memoir, A Moveable Feast.
A person can even spend a night here. No kidding! All it takes is just by promising to “read a book a day”, help out in the bookstore for a couple of hours and write a single-page autobiography for its archives.
From a bomb shelter to now, an extravagant bookstore, Librairie Avant-Garde in Nanjing, China, has definitely come far. No doubt, its vast space with rows and rows of books on display is stark but strangely breath-taking.
The 3,780 sqm space was established in 2004 underneath the Wutaichan Stadium. It sports an open plan with reading tables and couches for readers – and is quite the haven for zealous bibliophiles.
Instead of a shelf for best-selling books, a visitor can expect to be welcomed by a replica of late French artist Auguste Rodin’s “The Thinker” sculpture. The cashier counter is built from thousands of old books.
Libreria Acqua Alta
The name itself should clue you in. “Library Of High Water” in Italian, the bookstore apparently safeguards its books from the Venice floods by stacking them in everything from boats and canoes to gondolas.
Yet, Libreria Acqua Alta is more than just a place for books to exchange hands. Old tomes are seen transformed into a rather unique staircase, as well as decors that completely cover the walls.
The bookstore has been around since 2004, and is very much well-loved for its beautifully cluttered interior. As put by owner Luigi Frizzo, this gem of a place “oozes Venetian character and authenticity”.
Cover Image: Ivo Rainha via Unsplash
Writer | PY Cheong
PY Cheong has plied the trade of words long enough to recognise the difference between writing and storytelling. Believes in always dressing up his prose. Living and breathing the work he does.