Welcome to a village with more bookshops selling than school students

NEW YORK TIMES – LIFE/STYLE -URUEÑA, Spain – Perched on a hilltop in northwest Spain, Urueña overlooks a vast, windswept landscape of fields of sunflowers and barley, as well as a popular winery. The walls of some of the shops are built directly into the walls of the 12th century village.

Spain has one of the largest book publishing markets in Europe.
Spain has one of the largest book publishing markets in Europe. take photo: Samuel Aranda/The New York Times

Despite its rugged beauty, Urueña, like many villages in the Spanish countryside, has suffered in recent decades from an aging and declining population that has left it stagnant at just 100 full-time residents. Neither a butcher nor a baker. Both retired in recent months. The local school has only nine students.

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But in the last decade, one business has flourished in Urueña: books. There are 11 bookstores, including nine dedicated bookstores.

“I was born in a village that didn’t have a library and the people in it were definitely more interested in cultivating their land and animals than they were in books,” said Francisco Rodriguez, 53, the mayor of Urinoa. “This change is a bit strange, but it is a source of pride for a small place that has become a cultural center, which definitely makes us different and special compared to other villages around us.”

Trying to convert Urueña to a file Literary Center It comes from 2007, when regional authorities invested about 3 million euros, or about $3.3 million, to help restore and convert village buildings into libraries and build an exhibition and conference center. They offered a nominal rental fee of €10 per month for people interested in running a bookstore.

The plan was to keep Urueña alive Tourism bookand modeled on other rural literary centers throughout Europe – notably Montmorillon in France and Hay-on-Wye in Britain. Hay has long hosted one of literary festivals The most famous on the continent.

The Páramo Bookstore in Urueña, Spain, which sells a number of used books.
The Páramo Bookstore in Urueña, Spain, which sells a series of used books. take photo: Samuel Aranda/The New York Times

Spain has one of the largest book publishing markets in Europe, feeding a network of around 3,000 independent bookshops – and double that number if you get into stationery stores and other places that sell books. But about 40% of bookstores have less than €90,000 in annual revenue, which equates to running a “subsistence business”, according to Alvaro Manso, a spokesperson for CEGAL, an association representing independent libraries in Spain.

“The trend is that volume is important and more small bookstores will disappear,” Manso said, as has happened in other countries where book sectors have solidified. To help smaller companies compete, this month the Spanish Ministry of Culture allocated 9 million euros in support for the book sector for modernization and digitization.

The survival of this huge national network of bookstores in Spain, where readership levels are not particularly high, said Victor Lopez Bacheler, “is one of the biggest ironies in this country, but I think we live in a kind of book bubble.” , owner of a bookshop in Urueña.

Because rent is low, López-Bachiller said, he could support himself financially by selling a collection of used books, from Spanish classics like Pedro Páramo – who gave his name to his shop – even comics like Tintin. His shop also displays about 50 models of old typewriters that are said to have been used by writers like Jack KerouacAnd J.R.R. TolkienAnd Karen Blixen And Patricia Highsmith.

Lopez Batcheler, 47, is among about 100 villagers, most of whom are retired.

Tamara Crespo, a journalist, and her photographer husband, Fidel Rasso, bought a home in Orenia in 2001, ahead of efforts to turn the area into a literary center. They also run a library there now.

“I feel like being here is not only wanting to own a rent-free library, but also embracing a certain lifestyle and building a community,” said Crespo, whose shop focuses on photojournalism.

One of their few complaints is that some other bookstore owners open their doors sporadically, mostly on weekends, when they know there will be more visitors, even though the investment project calls for their stores to open at least four days a week.

She also noted that the village’s population has continued to decline slightly over the past two decades, even as Urueña has become a magnet for book lovers.

Rodriguez, the mayor, admitted that switching to a tourist destination does not guarantee that more full-time residents will move in and keep the village alive. The recent retirements of shopkeepers are further proof of that.

Victor Lopez Batcheler at his bookstore, Páramo, Orenia.  He is a resident of the village, which has a population of about 100 people.
Victor Lopez Batcheler at his bookstore, Páramo, Orenia. He is a resident of the village, which has a population of about 100 people. take photo: Samuel Aranda/The New York Times

“It is very sad,” he said, “but we have not been able to find anyone from the younger generation here willing to take on our new butcher position.”

Morning bread and meat are now being delivered from a nearby town.

The mayor predicted that the unfavorable demographics of rural Spain – a phenomenon now known as “empty Spain” or “empty Spain” – would present an ongoing challenge to survival.

However, the library initiative paid off.

Urueña was selected for grants because of its scenic location and attractive buildings – and because of its relatively accessible location. It’s near a motorway in northwest Spain, just over a two-hour drive from Madrid, and about 48 kilometers from the medieval city of Valladolid.

Urueña’s tourism office recorded 19,000 visitors in 2021, even amid the coronavirus pandemic. Officials say the actual number was much higher because many tourists do not stop at the office. The village also receives about 70,000 euros a year in public funds for organizing cultural events such as calligraphy lessons, plays and conferences. / Translated by LVIA BUELONI GONAALVES

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