Thursday, September 23

Calle Libreros, a Madrid classic that is running out of books

Libreros runs the risk of becoming one of those streets in Madrid with an old trade name and trade union -Cuchilleros, Latoneros …- which no longer matches the activity that takes place there. Not so many years ago, on these eve, back to the educational centers was a bustling street with queues at the doors of the dozen bookstores that it had and buying and selling on the ground between individuals of textbooks. However, now, at the beginning of September, it is difficult to find people in one of the only three book stores that remain open: La Merced (number 5), Madrid (number 6) and La Casa de la Troya (number 8).

Visiting the balcony of the dark swallows on the 150th anniversary of the death of Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer

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Libreros earned its fame by concentration of supply and specialization of the same: buying and selling of second-hand books, rarities, editorial novelties and texts for students shook hands in quantity in its scarce 100 meters. It lived its best years between the 50s and 90s of the last century but since then a commercial decline began that has been accelerated in recent times in which the business of selling textbooks has practically disappeared (internet, program Accede of the Community of Madrid …) and the rest of the cake only gives to resist with the fair and less.

Photocopies, the irruption of the internet, Accede -the textbook loan program developed by the Law of Gratuity of Textbooks and Curricular Material of the Community of Madrid-, online sales, the proliferation of large surfaces and a few more reasons are condemning to irrelevance a street that has been essential for decades for readers and students.

Elena Córcoles runs the La Merced bookstore, together with her brother Antonio and her son Juan Carlos, founded by her uncles -Carmelo Ramos and Consuelo Castro- 49 years ago. While he remembers the 80s as the most splendid of the bookstore business on this street – five people worked in La Merced – he talks about the future of it with a mixture of uncertainty and pessimism and, although he hopes to be able to endure until his retirement and that of his brother finds it difficult for his son, who would be willing to continue the family tradition in the same location, to earn a living in the bookstore.

“If the street is not animated, bad business”, the Córcoles agree without explaining how being so close to Gran Vía and with the bookstore tradition that it has, it does not attract more people. Antonio assures that those who now approach the street do it more to remember their student days than to buy something. They have plenty of memory by heart, although you don’t eat that.

“In front of us, at number 10, where that building now houses, was the Doña Pepita bookstore, the first one that opened on this street and from where many of the owners of the other bookstores that were opened here later left, after training in it. At number 16, where there are now also flats, there was another of the most famous, La Felipa (with a commemorative plaque on the street). Between them, at number 14, the Salamanca bookstore, which closed about three years ago. The Enrique bookstore, now converted into a hairdresser, was at number 8. La Fortuna, another street classic, at number 4, closed shortly before the confinement and a little earlier still, about two years ago, it was he said goodbye to the Alcalá bookstore, which was next to him. On the opposite sidewalk, on the corner with Flor Alta street, the Barber bookstore stood until about five years ago, and even around the corner, La Cristiana. ”

Closer to Gran Vía, at number 2, were the Antigua y Moderna Bookstore, by Antonio de Guzmán, and the Barbazán Bookstore, according to Pedro Angulo Muñoz, from the La Casa de la Troya bookstore, completing the memory of their neighbors. of La Merced.

La Casa de la Troya, opened by Laura Requena in 1935 in the premises of what was previously a tavern-grocery store, is currently the oldest on the street, which saw it born when it was still Constantino Rodríguez street (before it was de la Justa and Ceres), because Libreros was not called as it is today – it is said that at the proposal of Pío Baroja – until 1943.

On why Libreros has lived much better times than the ones that are living now, Angulo also points to the fact that at its confluence with Gran Vía it has a current look like the back of something much brighter and does not invite you to enter it. “There are two restaurants that take out their garbage cans as if they were doing it to an alley, there is the back of the theater, the building of notifications and embargoes of the Community of Madrid … Then there is the fact that the downhill of the This business has logically caused that as many booksellers have been retiring, no one has wanted to pick up the baton, making the whole less attractive “. “We will put up with what we can,” says Pedro, wanting to trust the long-standing loyal clientele who treasure his business.

The third bookstore that is still open today in Libreros is Madrid, at number 6. Dedicated almost entirely to textbooks, in general, and university students, in particular, it has suffered greatly from the disappearance of the student public. It was inaugurated in 1985 and since that same year Luis Derecho has worked there, who can only see a short future for the business and the street bookstore tradition.

A little over a decade ago, the City Council made the street pedestrian by embedding letters in the new pavement. It was believed that in this way part of the enormous flow of people passing through Gran Vía would be more invited to pass through it, but this has not been the case. From La Merced they assure that rather pedestrianization has isolated them even more: “Before, at least, even though it was passing through, cars would cross it, they would see us and they remembered that we were here. Now not even that.”

“In recent years, what more people have brought to this street has been that it was known that Alaska and Mario Vaquerizo lived there,” says Pedro from La Casa de la Troya, located under the balconies with pink flamingos that reveal the home of the famous couple. Perhaps the downhill slope of Libreros also has to do with the fact that the street is now better known among the new generations for the aforementioned flamingos than for the dark swallows that Bécquer imagined one day hanging nests on one of its balconies.

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