“He asked me to look after the store for a few days,”
⎼⎼ Karen Gasparyan
Are you a fan of old bookstores that feel and smell like another world? There’s an old bookstore on 45 Mashtots Avenue in downtown Yerevan, Armenia, that some residents don’t even know about. It has a humble old sign saying Գրքեր, Books in Armenian, and flimsy wooden doors that hide the mouth-dropping world within. Anyone that enters is left speechless for a minute or two because the store looks nothing like its city counterparts.
Aside from the beauty of the Moroccan-style wood carving and decorations, the bookstore also has a curious past. Nobody remembers the year when the place was built but it started off as a tobacco shop in the early 1940s. In the 1970s, it turned into a music note store that sold sheet music, vinyl discs, and also sold books on the side. Finally, in the 1990s, the store started selling books only. All those years, the interior remained exactly the same, with a painted wooden canopy and green wallpaper.
The shopkeeper, Karen Gasparyan, was once a frequent customer himself and became close friends with the owner. One day, “he asked me to look after the store for a few days, while he is out of the country.” Karen is working there for more than 27 years now.
The oak walls and the blue and gold ceiling have seen thousands of people come in and out of here. The eastern ornaments on the ceiling, the chandelier, the marble floor, everything stayed the same. Well-known writers, artists, and politicians still enter the store from time to time and are equally welcomed by a man in a knitted sweater and a book in his hand, Karen.
The store does not sell newly-published books. A large portion of the books is second-hand that is donated to the bookstore by ordinary citizens. At times, people find that they possess many books that they no longer read, or are moving houses and cannot carry their library with them. Fortunately, they do not throw these books in the trash. They bring it to the store where Karen takes them off their hands and welcomes each book with great pleasure.
He brings the books to the store and arranges them according to their genre, the year of publication, and relevance. Sometimes, the donated books are from already existing collections in the store. All complete or semi-complete book series can be easily found on one side of the store.
Same-collection books (mostly Soviet publications) sit on the shelves and create a repetition of color and shapes with their spines. Together with the oak furniture and detailed ornaments on the walls, the store looks like a scene from a château library or a work of art you can walk into.
Those who are already familiar with the store still take a glance around the room to make sure it is as they still remember. “Very often, people who come in, haven't been in Yerevan for years. They just come in to see if the store is still here,” says Karen, “everything is changing around here, but, I guess, it is a relief for them to see that this place is still the same.”
People who had just discovered this treasury are easy to detect as they stand gaping at the interior details. Many involuntarily reach for their phones and forget what they were looking for. Some customers confess that the store is like no other place, as though untouched by time. And indeed, nothing has changed for decades. The same red sign hangs above the entrance, and a man stands in a grey knitted sweater, smoking a cigarette.