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Traditions and novelties. St. Petersburg’s House of Books celebrates 95th birthday

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Store number one is marking a jubilee. The legendary House of Books on Nevskiy has turned 95. The store, which was opened in 1919, had worked through the blockade. It was temporarily closed only during the most difficult winter of 1942 – when pipes burst in its basement. Technologies now used in all bookstores were invented here. Mariya Marchenko delved into history.

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Eccentric director Vasiliy Barkhatov is stunned by the variety of books. There are several million items on two stores. Back in 1919 they could only dream of such numbers.

Mariya Marchenko, reporter: “Having barely opened, the House of Books was not just a store, but a genuine cultural center. Writers brought their scripts to the publishers several floors above and then went down into the store’s hall. You could have a casual conversation here with Alexey Tolstoy, Olga Forsh, Daniil Harms”

Finding your work on these shelves is the biggest praise for a writer. Back in the 1990s, Evgeniy Vodolazkin came here as an unknown postgraduate student of the Pushkinskiy Dom. Back then he could not have imagined that his “Lavr” novel would top the sales, and the store’s manager would personally greet the famed writer.

Evgeniy Vodolazkin, writer: “Here I see Daniil Granin, Bitov. I thought of them as of half-gods. And now my works are next to them. It’s a wonderful feeling”

Things which were invented and implemented here during the Soviet times have been regarded as classics of book selling during the market economy. This store was the first in the country to use a calendar of new arrivals, and organized book lotteries and sales – or, as they called it then” “book bazaars”. It was as if the place itself inspired novelties. The Zinger House – built in 1904 on Pavel Suzor’s project – reflected the achievements of that time: metal structure, galss atrium and a system of clearing snow from the roof.

Boris Kirikov, architecture historian: “These green boxes – they had hot water inside, and once snow reached them, it melted and went down the pipes”

The atmosphere of the Silver Age is thoroughly preserved. It’s understood here – tradition is the main advantage over competitors. The times when the House of Books was the only bookstore in the city have long passed. Nevskiy alone has more than 10 of those. That’s not even mentioning e-books, which are cheaper and easier to read. But those running the House of Books are sure – they will not close until there are people who enjoy flipping real pages.

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