Art And Culture

A Question of Coexistence

A Question of Coexistence   A Question of Coexistence

The Book Garden in Tehran officially opened on Monday, July 3, after its inauguration was postponed several times.

So far, the western flank of Enqelab Avenue, mainly around Enqelab Square, has been the main physical market in Tehran where people end up in search of books. But this soon becomes a thing of the past with the appearance of Book Garden, a huge arena in the Abbasabad Hills, a few km north of the old avenue.

This, however, is not the first time that commercial centers are moved around the sprawling capital. Lalezar in the crowded downtown is among earlier examples. Strolling along the street, one may still see remnants of few abandoned theaters. Lalezar was once the cultural hub of Tehran. Now it is changed into a market for electric appliances, both wholesale and retail.

According to an article in the Persian-language newspaper Ebtekar by journalist and essayist Fatemeh Aminoroaya, the same fate could visit Enqelab Avenue. Will the book stores be no more? Soon to say.

Book Garden, covering a total area of 65,000 square meters indoor exhibition space, one of the largest of its kind, is basically a huge and permanent bookstore which will remain open throughout the year.

The open grounds surrounding the buildings, covering 45,000 sq m, includes an artificial lake, a restaurant and a coffee shop and playgrounds for kids. A parking area for 5,000 cars is also planned.

Book Garden is bordered by the National Library to the east, the Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Persian Language and Literature to the northeast, Art Museum Garden is to the northwest and the Holy Defense Museum to the west.

Will the Book Garden cast a shadow on the traditional bookstores on Enqelab Avenue? “Today, they say Book Garden is not going to offer discount; but there’s no guarantee. With or without discounts, the new venue will indeed hurt the revenues of other bookstores,” says Mahmoud Amouzegar head of Tehran Publishers and Booksellers Association (TPBA).

  Shopkeepers’ Chagrin

A salesperson in a bookshop on Enqelab Avenue said, “Tehran has become too large. Those living in northern Tehran rarely come down to Enqelab to buy books. They prefer the online purchases. With the Book Garden, visitors (especially from northern parts of the city) can at least see the books in physical form. Such permanent bookstores are in the interest of publishers, and the garden has tried to gather (almost) all Iranian publishers in one place.”

A salesperson at another bookshop said, “The book market is stagnant and struggling. It is rather a bit too soon to assess the influence of the Book Garden on the rest of the market.” His colleague was quick to add: “Each time the Tehran International Book Fair is held (every year in May), our sales drop. The permanent complex (Book Garden) will make it worse. Those who are already in a difficult situation will have no option but to close down.”

Further down Enqelab Avenue one bookstore had everything but customers. Speaking in an uneasy and bitter tone, the owner said, “Now what’s left of the shop is the light bulbs and the electricity bills. Do you see a single customer in such a large shop? We’ll have to pull down the shutters soon.”

Another shopkeeper doubts that the Book Garden would be a serious rival for Enqelab Avenue. “We should first find out what sorts of books will be sold there. If Book Garden is going to follow the example of subway bookstands or street peddlers and offer a discount of 50%, it will not have any adverse effect on our business”.

It is also the question of which publishers would collaborate with the Book Garden. The complex is under supervision of Tehran Municipality and this may be a disadvantage; for the municipality may impose some ‘vetting’ system in selection of books.

“Bookshops of Enqelab Avenue have their own regular, traditional customers and can never be replaced by anything else. Book Garden may be successful in its sideline activities, but its book sections will not be efficient,” he added.

Poet and writer of children’s books Ali Asghar Seyedabadi, 48, commented on Book Garden in a tweet: “I’m not against mega bookstores; but I regard small bookshops necessary elements in market. It is to them that I often refer to buy books.”

It is too early to pass judgment on the effect of the Book Garden on the existing businesses on Enqelab Street. A clearer picture will emerge after the people’s response to the huge cultural complex in the not too distant future.

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