Arts & Entertainment

Desperate Colombian booksellers forced to accept food as payment

By Ricardo Maldonado Rozo

Cartagena, Colombia, Sep 10 (EFE).- Desperate booksellers in this tourist city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast have launched an initiative aimed at alleviating their dire economic situation, temporarily accepting food and other supplies as payment for their second-hand titles.

Those retailers say they are experiencing a complicated crisis and have taken this drastic measure because fewer and fewer people are buying physical books and they sometimes go weeks without making a single sale.

William Correa, a member of the Cartagena Booksellers’ Association and owner of one of the 29 book kiosks in this colonial city’s Centenario Park, told Efe that his business has been hit hard both by the pandemic and the near-total replacement of physical books by e-books.

“We’re literally going hungry,” he said in explaining the decision to receive food as payment for books for three days.

Weeks earlier, Correa and other kiosk owners had tried to attract customers by selling handicrafts, but authorities prohibited them from doing so on the grounds they were not authorized to sell any other type of merchandise in that space.

Those 29 booksellers have spent more than 15 years selling their products in metal kiosks located at one end of the park, which was founded in 1911 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Cartagena’s independence from Spain.

“We’re under attack from the authorities for demanding the inclusion of handicrafts … so we can support ourselves,” Correa said.

Centenario Park is located in the heart of Cartagena between the colonial houses of its old town and the city’s Getsemani neighborhood, a trendy spot and tourist magnet.

Correa said the ban on handicraft sales is violating booksellers’ right to put food on the table, adding that their children are “literally going hungry.”

“We want the administration (the Cartagena mayor’s office) to realize that selling handicrafts is not a crime and that we’re not stealing from anybody,” he added.

The kiosks’ bookshelves are crammed with university textbooks, Bibles, civil codes and even the occasional exotic cookbook, as well as copies of the greatest works of world literature in different languages.

“We sell all kinds of books here, from ‘El Principito’ (Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s ‘Le Petit Prince’) to Gabriel Garcia Marquez,” Correa said.

The kiosks are nearly the only outlets for purchasing physical books in Cartagena, a city whose Hay Festival is one of the world’s most prestigious gatherings for writers and literature enthusiasts. EFE


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