Friday, January 21, 2011

Top 13 Cool Looking Bookstores

1. Selexyz Dominicanen Church, Netherlands
Selexyz Dominicanen Bookstore were thinking when they decided to house their establishment in a 13th century Dominican cathedral in the center of Maastricht, Holland. Though, in truth, the cathedral hasn’t been a center for worship since Napoleon put the kibosh on services after he invaded Maastricht in 1794. Since then the cathedral has been alternately abandoned, used as a warehouse and turned into what was probably the world’s most sanctified indoor bicycle parking lot.


Despite the fact that the cathedral hadn’t been a working cathedral for more than 200 years, turning the space into a bookstore was an enormous challenge for Selexyz Dominicanen’s architects. A city ordinance required that the cathedral be completely preserved, meaning that no permanent modifications to the building of any sort were allowed!

So how do you create a three-story bookstore in a cathedral when you can’t drill any holes into the building or attach anything load-bearing to its walls? Selexyz Dominicanen made ingenious use of free-standing black steel scaffolding. This scaffolding completely supports all the bookshelves and the catwalks to them. The shelves and scaffolding are close to the cathedral’s walls but scaffolding never actually touch them.

Add to that a tasteful use of religious iconography (check out the cross-shaped reading table in the pic, above), a nice cafe located where the church choir once sang, and a slew of inviting nooks and comfy reading areas and the result is a bookstore that’s absolutely divine

2. Newsstand in a Movie Theater, Texas

The historic Alabama Theater, which opened in Houston in 1939, got a new life long after shows stopped when a retailer lined the inside with bookshelves. The bookstore closed in September 2009, moving to another unit in the mall, leaving the theater with an uncertain future and possible risk of demolition.


3.El Ateneo Bookstore in a Theater, Argentina

Imagine taking a seat in a box overlooking one of the most beautiful antique theaters in the world, not to take in an opera but to get lost in the pages of a book. El Ateneo Bookstore may be the only place in the world where you can do just that. Now a grand tourist attraction, El Ateneo attracts over a million people ever year.




4.Doulos Floating Bookstore on a Ship

Until recently, the MV Doulos was the oldest passenger ship still sailing – built just three years after the Titanic, which of course said its goodbyes to the world long ago. The ship was used as a floating bookshop for many years, at one point holding between 3000-5000 books on the shelves with a half million more in the hold. The ship traveled around the world selling books until 2009, when it was retired.

5.Airstream Traveling Bookstore
Another bookstore travels the streets rather than the seas, distributing artist books, zines and independent publications. Projet Mobilivre, also known as the Bookmobile Project, was a 1959 Airstream converted into a a pretty little bookstore based in Quebec. Unfortunately, the bookstore made its last tour in 2008.



6.Manure Tank Bookstore, Wisconsin

Talk about creative, unexpected reuse: this castle-shaped bookstore in Wisconsin used to hold manure. Lots of it. Castle Arkady is a treasure trove of old country books, especially books printed between the 1880s and 1930s, and is located on the farm of an elderly couple that now runs the bookstore only on Saturdays during the summertime.



7.Looking Glass Train Car Bookstore, Oregon

The little red caboose of the Looking Glass Bookstore in Portland, Oregon is impossible for passersby to resist despite the presence of the much larger and world-famous Powell’s Bookstore in the same city. The caboose was repurposed into a children’s section, while the rest of the bookstore’s collection extends into a main building.


8.Bultman Funeral Home Borders, New Orleans
This Borders Bookstore in New Orleans is unlike any other, and it’s definitely got a dash of Southern Gothic flavor. The Bultman Funeral Home was converted into a Borders in 2008, with architects Woodward Des

ign preserving the historic exterior of the building while making it look like virtually any other Borders on the inside.

9.Hay Castle Books, Wales
Hay-on-Wye in Wales is known as the “town of books”, and it’s no wonder – not only are there an unusually high number of bookstores (over thirty in a tiny market town), but one of them is even located in a castle. Possibly the oldest Norman castle in Wales, the Hay-on-Wye castle is packed with thousands of secondhand books and is a popular destination for bibliophiles visiting Great Britain.


10.Cigarette Vending Machine Bookstores
What to do with old cigarette vending machines? Turn them into cool little automated bookstores! German publisher Hamburger Automatenverlag sells a small selection of books for just 4 euros a pop – definitely a healthier offering than the machine’s former contents.



11.Poplar Kid’s Republic

What a cool design concept: Start with an all white bookstore interior—white floors, white ceiling, white walls, white stairs, white bookshelves, white everything—and to that liberally add rainbow splashes of bright color. Stock your shelves with a huge multi-language selection of kid’s books, add reading cubbyholes and padded activity areas, and you have Beijing’s Poplar Kid’s Republic, our favorite children’s bookstore in the world. (Sadly, our previous favorite children’s bookstore, the Cheshire Cat outside of Washington, DC, closed down several years ago—we hope endowing our current favored status upon the Kid’s Republic won’t condemn it to the same fate). Our few photos below don’t really do this huge store justice so check it out yourself next you are in Beijing. Kid’s Republic also has a branch, nearly as cool, in Shanghai.



12.Shakespeare & Co. Antiquarian Books
f you’ve seen the movie Before Sunset you’ve seen the inside of the Shakespeare & Co. Antiquarian bookstore—this is where Julie Delpy’s character reunited with Ethan Hawke’s during a book signing.

If you’ve read Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. (and if you haven’t you should) then you are intimately familiar with this bookstore. Time Was Soft There is the lusciously-written memoir of a homeless man who was allowed to sleep overnight in Shakespeare & Co by the store’s communist-leaning owner and then refused to vacate when times turned more capitalist. His bed is still there (see pic, below).

But even if you’ve never seen the Shakespeare & Co. Antiquarian bookstore in the movies, or read about it in books, you’ll step through the store’s doorway and sense that this is the sort of quaint, quirky place that should be in cinema and literature. The isles are piled with books. The writer’s room has a working piano for patrons to play. Poets regularly read their work in one of the back rooms.

And if you can’t get to Paris personally then at least visit the store’s supremely well done website—poking around it is almost as much fun as poking around the store itself.



13.El Péndulo

Mexico City

Originally this post was envisioned as a list of five bookstores. We had to expand it to six in order to squeeze in Polanco branch of El Péndulo. This bookstore isn’t as amazingly stunning or history-filled as the above five selections are. But it is bright, spacious, huge and gloriously plant-filled. Plus the store (and attached cafe) isn’t shy about using air conditioning, which makes El Péndulo a wonderful literary escape on a hot Mexican day.

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