Social Issues

Book selling, a street-friendly business venture for Argentinian homeless

By Aitor Pereira

Buenos Aires, Jul 13 (EFE).- Every day, Carlos Sotelo wakes up under a porch in Florida Street in Buenos Aires and, first thing in the morning, he organizes his book collection on display for pedestrians walking along, an ever-growing catalogue thanks to donations and the work of urban recyclers.

As the economic crisis tormenting Argentina relentlessly makes more people homeless — roughly 7.8% of its population is currently living on the streets — street bookselling has become more crucial than ever for some.

Sotelo has hawked literature on the same street corner of the capital for two decades.

“Some acquaintances started gifting me books, everyday they stroll by and see me. They started making presents and people started helping out,” he says.

“I also buy from recyclers. There’s a lot of people who throw books because their bookshelves are full, so they throw them away and I buy them for cheap.”

His good location and prices, he says, allow him to sell about 40 books every day.

Pedestrians swamp Florida Street during the day, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, but the area becomes deserted at night, which makes Carlos more vulnerable to theft.

“I make a mound over there with the books, cover them with a blanket and wrap them well,” he tells Efe. “I sleep there, and if I feel someone wants to steal I warn the police, they always protect me, they are nice around here.”

Colombian writer Gabriel García Marquez is, “by far,” the best-seller in his humble corner bookshop, along with national classics like Borges or Cortazar.

Homeless booksellers like him are scattered across the city of Buenos Aires, selling second-hand books in touristic or pedestrian-packed spots, such as the Palermo neighbourhood, where Martín Sánchez runs a corner street bookstore.

At Martín’s, customers price the books themselves.

“No one hands less than 100 pesos ($1), they always give some,” he says.

His book catalogue was exclusively built on donations, which is why he feels he cannot put a price on them.

He has sat on that corner for 17 years now selling books, next to a church that allows him to store his collection at night.

“I am into Socrates, the death of Socrates and the correspondence he left behind I know by heart now,” says Martín of his own favourite literature. “I am shocked that they killed a man who held the truth.” EFE

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