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Sweatpants & Sanity | Fantasy Break: World’s Oldest Bookstores

I love a great bookstore. Modern chain bookstores, like Barnes & Noble, are good and well, but there’s something about an ancient, hole-in-the-wall bookstore, isn’t there? The dusty shelves, the forgotten volumes just begging to be thumbed through. For this week’s fantasy break, we’re visiting some of the world’s oldest bookstores. Enjoy, and vote for your favorite in our poll!

1. The Moravian, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

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The Moravian is the oldest bookstore in the United States. Founded in 1745, it has been expanded many times, taking over neighboring buildings, and now (or actually, since 1857), boasts a staggering 15,000 square feet of books. With a giant independent literature section, the Moravian also features some non-book related items, such as a full gourmet candy counter, and sections dedicated to regional gifts and Christmas items. It is also reportedly haunted!

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2. The Bertrand, Lisbon, Portugal

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The Bertrand has been open since 1732 – a whopping 284 years! At its current location since 1755, The Bertrand is likely the oldest bookstore in the world. The original 1732 location was destroyed in the same earthquake that inspired Voltaire’s Candide. Now, it is a chain with more than 50 branches in Portugal.

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3. The Galignani, Paris, France

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The Galignani lays claim to being the oldest English-speaking bookstore on the European continent. While the shop was founded in 1801, Galignani was originally operational since 1520 as a publisher! From their website: “Beginning in 1520, Simone Galignani published in Venice a Latin grammar (the oldest “Galignani” known)…. However, their greatest success was the Geografia by PTOLEMAUS published in 1597, an incredible bestseller in both the 16th and 17th centuries.” Wow! The Galignani has operated from their current location since 1856, and is still run by descendants of the original family.

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4. Dom Knigi, St. Petersburg, Russia

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Opening in 1919, the Dom Knigi (“House of Books”) occupied seven floors of the Singer building (of sewing machine fame) for many years. Over its years, the Dom Knigi has seen a lot of change, including several changes to the name of the city it resides in! The building itself is an art nouveau masterpiece. During the Siege of Leningrad, the shop continued to operate even when a bomb was dropped on the neighboring building, shattering all of Dom Knigi’s windows and flooding the storage rooms. It was only in the winter of 1941 that the shop, lacking electricity and heating, closed temporarily. The building was closed in 1948 to repair war damage, and again for restoration in the middle of the last decade. Otherwise, it has been St. Petersburg’s most popular bookshop for over seventy years.

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5. Marga Schoeller Bucherstube, Berlin, Germany

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In 1924, 24-year old Marga Schoeller opened her famous bookstore. From a feature article: “The first tough test for the bookstore came in the following decade, which was marked by the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party in Germany. During this period, Schoeller kept the forbidden literature, banned by the Nazi regime of the Third Reich for ideological reasons, hidden in the basement and available to trustworthy customers. She also bravely resisted the ideological policies of the Nazi regime and refused to sell propagandist literature. After the allies conquered Berlin, this bookstore was one of the first to receive the license to continue its business, along with the permission to sell English books. From then on, a well-stocked English section has been one of the main features of the bookstore and also its biggest pride.” What a hero!

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Emily Parker is a musician, writer, and avid reader who started Bucket List Book Reviews, the ‘1,001 Books to Read Before You Die’ project. For Sweatpants & Coffee, Emily hopes to inspire the reading of the classics by a whole new audience by only reviewing the really good stuff.

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