The lello resists the death of bookstores

Some uninitiated passers-by must have rubbed their eyes in amazement in front of the livraria lello. Long lines outside a bookstore? Whether a famous author reads and signs autographs? No. At number 144 of the rua das carmelitas in porto in the north of portugal, this is everyday life.

Often the line even goes around the block. lello is perhaps the only bookstore in the world that even collects admission fees. Four euros per capita. While the death of bookstores is lamented everywhere, here one has to cope with the onslaught of people from all over the world and of all ages.

The lello has always been praised by media such as CNN and the guardian as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. At some point, this sorcerer’s apprentice also "arrived", which has additionally intensified the onslaught in the past years. "if you’re a harry potter fan, you must have been here once," says 23-year-old jan from bremen, who waits in line in front of the narrow gothic facade with obvious anticipation, even in the chilly drizzle. The British author J.K. Rowling, who lived in porto as an english teacher in the early 1990s, is said to have been inspired by the swinging stairs of hogwarts boarding school in lello.

"the number of visitors had been increasing since the beginning of the 2000s, but we had hardly sold any books for a long time," spokesman manuel de sousa tells the german press agency. Four years ago, the store was on the verge of insolvency, even though it was always full to bursting. Someone had the idea of collecting entrance fees, which at first glance seemed crazy. "this was also very controversial internally and was discussed a lot," sousa reveals.

jose manuel lello, who has been running the store since 1980 and is the fifth generation of the family to do so, was also initially against the idea. his great-great-grandfather had founded the livraria as a bookstore, publishing house and print shop in 1881. After all, you are a publisher and bookseller, not a museum or even a literary Disneyland, said the skeptics around lello. But the boss was grudgingly persuaded after months of debate. This should turn out to be a stroke of luck.

In addition to the introduction of admission fees in 2015, the store also adapted to its audience: the Harry Potter books now occupy a (very) prominent position. in addition, authors like fernando pessoa and jose saramago are also offered in translations. Around half of the books are in english, german, french, spanish and italian, saysusa. But the best-seller and "miracle maker" was harry potter – in all languages. The entrance fee is charged when you buy a book. And, of course, there are now souvenirs to buy, such as soaps, postcards and perfumes.

The result of the "revolution," as one newspaper called the unusual measures: despite admission fees, the number of visitors rose by almost 20 percent to 1.2 million last year alone. but the pure selfie-takers are now in the minority. Annual sales shot up from one million euros in 2015 to 5.1 million euros in 2016 and 7.2 million euros last year. The number of books sold climbed from 50,000 (2015) to 280,000 (2017), and the number of employees rose from seven to 45 over the period. two million euros were spent on renovation work in 2016.

"now tourists don’t just spend money in the port wineries on the douro riverbank," laughs sousa as he proudly leads them through the art nouveau livraria: the dark wood paneling and the high rooms are striking, but the biggest eye-catcher – not just for potter fans – is of course the famous staircase with the red steps that lead up to the open-plan upper floor.

Sousa& co. Meanwhile, not only want to save the lello. They also resist on a larger scale the death of bookstores. On the occasion of the world day of the book takes place on monday (23.4.) in porto on initiative of the portuguese therefore the second meeting of the "most beautiful bookstores of the world" takes place. The bank wants to talk to representatives of boekhandel dominicanen from maastricht and the last bookstore from los angeles, among others, about more cooperation and joint measures to save the sector. Sousa: "after our first meeting in 2017, we now want to get down to business."

The lello, a listed building since 2013, is regarded throughout portugal as the "cathedral of the book" because of its excellent literary offerings, including a lot of poetry and a political segment, but also because of its imposing, sparsely lit interior. The store has occupied its current location for 112 years. At the beginning of the 20th century, the lello brothers jose and antonio commissioned a. the engineer francisco xavier esteves with the construction of the twentieth century. in 1906, the opening of porto’s temple-like first reinforced concrete building was a national event.

Members of the political, cultural and social elite were present at the inauguration ceremony. today, potter fans are standing on each other’s feet. Sousa has to stop constantly during his tour and make himself small to let the currents pass by. "in summer it gets worse, then we have up to 5,000 visitors a day, who also stay inside for a long time," he says. Then you have to show organizational skills to keep the people waiting outside happy.

Sousa knows that one J.K. Rowling has a lot to thank for. Whether the author knows about it? Sousa: "she’s never been back to the store since, maybe we’ll invite her sometime."

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