Bulgarian Experiences: English Book Shop
By Karen Fox
Originally published in Stara Planina Properties newsletter on 13th February 2009.
Some things happen so naturally you have to decide that they were just meant to be…
Plans for ‘The Book Cave’ started when I was admiring a friend’s newly converted old quarter flat, ‘It even comes with its own shop’ she told me. ‘I need to find someone who wants it, it’s very small but I think it would make a lovely bookshop’.
I’ve always loved to read and had already been through my books six times and swapped them with everyone I knew, the idea of an excuse to bring more reading matter to Bulgaria was almost irresistible, so off we went to look at the shop. It was very small (12 sq m) and in need of a little work, but the location, not on the high street, but just off the old art quarter seemed right for second-hand books.
The research period followed. How many books to a cardboard box? How much do they weigh? How much shelf space do they take up? How much was all this going to cost? Where could I get the books from? Initially this last question was my biggest concern, then my sister casually announced ‘You do know your niece is going out with a boy whose parents are booksellers don’t you?!’ A few e-mails established that they could provide me with mixed boxes of good quality second-hand books at a price that began to make it look as if the whole idea could be possible. A chance contact with a man involved with exporting from Bulgaria who was looking for items to transport from the UK solved the last practical problem. We could buy books and get them to Bulgaria for a decent price where there was a space available to sell them from.
The next phase was the bit which is most anxiety provoking for Brits trying to run a business in Bulgaria; obtaining the various permissions and documents needed to make the business legal.
At the start the lady from the municipality planning department was not encouraging, ‘There is no shop in that part of Opulchenska Street, there never has been’. We waved the notary deed at her and told her we’d been into the premises, ‘Show me’ she said, so in one of those slightly surreal Bulgarian moments we jumped in the car and did just that. ‘Oh yes’, she announced, ‘It was a fabric shop, I think the skirt I’m wearing now came from material I bought there!’
There was no need to apply for change of use, just the documents to re-open were needed. The discovery that bookshops are exempt from hygiene regulations in Bulgaria was a real stroke of luck, with no water on the premises we’d been scratching our heads about how we would install the toilet!
The wooden wall at the back of the shop had to come out; it was ugly, damp and a fire risk. We expected to find a cliff face behind the wall and were more than a little disconcerted when we realised we’d broken into the neighbours cellar but he was very understanding about it and even offered to sell us the cellar if we wanted to make a bigger shop!
As well as native English speakers we’ve served Romanian, French, Italian, Scandinavian and German customers, as well as many young and not so young Bulgarians who are delighted at the chance to purchase good value English books.
Bulgaria isn’t always an easy country to live or do business in, so it’s great when things run smoothly. It appears we’ve found a product people want and can sell it for a price they find acceptable; the exchange system (bring your book back when you’ve read it and get 50% of the price discounted from the next book) works well for those with limited budgets or limited shelf space. I’m still waiting for the day when a book I’ve sold to a hosteller on his way to Istanbul is returned by another on her way to Bucharest; sooner or later it has to happen!
The address of The Book Cave is 9 Opalchenska Street (less than 50 metres from Yantra hotel and 100 meters from the Stara Planina office in Veliko Turnovo).