Hinzelmann, an all together forgettable character in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods may well be remembered for a particularly wise comment he made,“What I say is, a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not fooling a soul.”
Adding soul to Koramangala’s bylanes, Atta Galatta, the book store that recently celebrated its second anniversary on April 3, is one of the few indie book stores in the city that finds itself thriving with its community. Speaking to the owners, Subodh and Lakshmi Sankar, City Express finds out what makes them tick in a city where bookstores are shutting down by the day.
“I remember going through all these books and being struck by the Salon de Paris, this happy place bursting with various art forms. And contrary to what everyone thinks, a book store shouldn’t always be this quiet place. It could be full of kids, there could be a play happening or a book reading or it could even be this quiet place sometimes. So we always had this lively place in mind,” says Lakshmi. The bookstore that opened in April 2012, launched itself with three events in the first month itself, which included a story telling session, a play reading and an origami workshop for children. A model that was built on word of mouth, the news of this alternative space spread far and wide, and soon not a week went by without a couple of events.
But can bookstores not exist just as bookstores anymore? “It’s time we realise that just putting books in a space is not going to bring in footfalls. People can buy books online now. They don’t need to venture out really. So if you really want people to come in, we need to look at other things that catch their interest and develop a certain niche as well,” Lakshmi explains.
The couple invested `20 lakh initially to start the bookstore. “Most of the money went towards building the book inventory and setting up the cafe, as the space already belonged to us and we didn’t have to pay rent or anything of the sort,” explains Subodh. While they’re still breaking even, the couple are quite happy to watch the book store flourish into one of the most sought after performance spaces in the city.
While they do invite as many artistes into their book store as possible, they don’t necessarily make any revenue from the events that take place there. “We earn our money mainly from the book sales and the food we sell at the cafe. Since most of the events here are free of cost for people to attend, we don’t charge people to use this space to conduct their events either,” says Subodh. The events indirectly bring in revenue in the sense that, they lead to more footfalls and end up in more people buying books and purchasing baked goodies and coffee at the cafe. “Almost 90 per cent of the sales that happen here, take place on event days,” adds Subodh.
When it comes to future plans the duo are planning to start a small library along with the book store. “I’’ve always liked the idea of book exchanges, that are quite popular abroad really. People bring in books they’ve already read and leave it here, and pick up whatever book they want in return,” explains Lakshmi. “We are now constantly trying to add more languages to our repository. We recently added Bengali to our collection, just three months ago. We had a lot of these events that were being conducted by Bengalis recently, and when they found out we didn’t have any Bengali books here, they insisted we let them help us build a catalogue. The same is happening with Marathi now,” adds Subodh.
The duo have also just launched their own range of Atta Galatta breads which they sell within the store, and will be available at other stored within the next 10 days. “I’m giving it another year, till we finally settle down properly and hopefully by next year we can look at opening another book store, at maybe the other side of the city, because there’s definitely a market for what we do here,” says Lakshmi.