Second-Hand Stories

In the midst of the digital age, where the popularity of printed books continues to decrease and many bookstores have failed to stay afloat, Seville’s Boteros bookstore has thrived thanks to its old-fashioned feel, unique history and passionate owner.

“It’s hard to find your place,” says Daniel Cruz, owner of the second-hand bookstore Boteros, located on the street for which it was named, in the neighbourhood of La Alfalfa, in Seville. Daniel looks at home in the tiny shop, where he sits ensconced in a thick grey sweater, surrounded by countless books and customers. With his warm brown eyes and pointy chin blanketed by a salt-and-pepper beard, the bookseller’s friendly demeanor welcomes customers and invites them to browse. Daniel acts as though he has spent his whole life here, but in reality went through quite a journey before finding his place. He spent years travelling through Europe, working as a waiter and in the hospitality industry before he finally had the means to settle in the cozy, red-walled shop nestled on the corner of calle Boteros and calle Odreros.

The shop itself underwent a similar journey before it found its calling as a keeper of books. Although the bookshop just celebrated its second birthday in March, one look at its high ceiling and lofted attic with splintering wooden steps reminds the older locals of its history as a tailor shop.

Now, the small space is crammed to the brim with books. Tall shelves stretch from floor to ceiling and wrap around each and every wall. Cruz has made an attempt to organize the selections based on genre; cards such as “trips,” “science,” “religion,” or “history,” details what each shelf has to offer. When Cruz ran out of space on the shelves, he simply labeled the ceiling with arrows. However, from there, the books have completely taken over. As if the walls weren’t ample enough to hold them, books have spilled onto the floor and taken refuge beneath the shelves, or formed haphazard stacks on top of them. They’ve landed on the plush armchairs meant for readers, or stacked themselves on Cruz’s desk, which also serves as the register. They’re hidden in boxes underneath the store’s center display table for new books, waiting for their turn to be tucked into a shelf or laid flat on the desk.

But the most special books have made it all the way up to the store’s second level, stashed away in the tiny attic, almost invisible to the prying eyes of the customers. These various novels are for Cruz’s personal consumption only. As an avid reader, there are certain selections with which he simply cannot bear to part. When he has the time and space in his house, he will take them home where he can better enjoy them.

Among those elite books collecting dust in the attic are some of Cruz’s favorites, over 10 volumes of Modesto Lafuente’s Historia de España (Historyof Spain). They take precedence on a dark green shelf in the corner. As for the rest that have caught Cruz’s attention, they wait patiently in the many boxes that crowd the cramped space, in such a large quantity that one wonders how he is able to tiptoe around them without twisting an ankle.

Cruz has the Spanish classics one would expect to find, such as Don Quijote de La Mancha, but after more than a cursory glance around the laden shelves, customers can find more eclectic selections, ranging from health –La salud del niño: cómo curar las enfermedades (Children’sHealth: How to Cure Sickness)– to art titles that include books about Alfred Hitchcock’s movies. Yet, Cruz has no trouble locating reading material based on the specific requests of his customers. He simply slides the long metal ladder along the shelves, climbing up and down, moving left to right, until he finds what he’s looking for.

This grand search process is mostly due to the business’ absence of an online catalogue. While other second-hand bookstores such as Librería Alejandría, located in Pasaje de los Azahares, at a mere 10-minute walk from Boteros, complete most of their sales –about 70% to 80%– on the

Internet using an online catalogue, Cruz sticks to old-school business methods. On the long table situated in the middle of the store, he places the newest selections –books that he has purchased or that have been donated to him from families of people who have passed away, or from individuals who have run out of space in their home libraries– so that his regular clients, who tend to come weekly or biweekly, have no trouble finding something new.

One of Cruz’s biggest worries is that with the rise of internet sales, many bookstores are converting into warehouses, meaningless storage spaces where books lay untouched, waiting to be packed into a box and shipped to the buyer. Far from this reality, Seville celebrates traditional contact with books and offers its many readers an annual used books fair, the Feria del Libro Antiguo y de Ocasión. This fair has taken place every November since 1977 and in the 2016 edition, increased its sales from the previous year by 15%. However, the popularity of printed books in general has been declining due to the convenience of the digital age. In 2014, book sales in Spain had dropped by 40% in comparison with previous years, and in Andalusia specifically, sales during the first half of the year were the lowest they had been in many years, according to the Andalusian Federation of booksellers. Although Andalusia has seen a rise in the number of new second-hand bookstores since 2014, Cruz still thinks the Internet is a dominating factor in the sale of books. For this reason, he has invested a lot of energy in making Boteros as unique as possible.

“The peculiarity of this space is that I have always wanted to convert it into a place of gathering, where you hear good music, find people to chat with, and are enticed into reading books,” he says. Still, it is impossible to attract everyone. On the days when Cruz’s young son has to stay with him in the store, he curls up in one of the plump armchairs meant for readers and passes the time scrolling through the apps on his iPad, completely oblivious to the labyrinth of books that surrounds him.

These cozy armchairs and other aspects of the store’s décor contribute greatly to the energy of the space. Aside from the fresh coat of red paint that covers the doorframes and trim, Cruz decided to keep the original colors of the walls, various layers of chipping paint in pastel greens, blues and purples, as if to pay homage to the space’s previous identity as a tailor shop.

In addition to holding the heavy shelves, the walls around the shop also exhibit paintings, which are mostly old religious works that come from a friend’s antique shop. Cruz periodically changes the paintings, which he places in key locations around the shop. The ones that feature religious imagery hang next to shelves containing science books, Cruz’s attempt at a thought-provoking juxtaposition. “I like to play with the space,” he explains.

In the corner of the shop sits an antique-looking wine barrel from which Cruz offers his clients wine. This demonstrates the historical significance of the shop’s name and location on Boteros street, which makes reference to the guild of craftsmen who, during the Middle Ages, made barrels to keep and conserve wine. The street also crosses with Odreros street, similarly named for the guild of wineskin makers. Cruz sees a close connection between the culture of wine and literature. “Wine must keep for a long time to be good, just like culture. To fully appreciate literature, one must calmly take it in. I had this relationship between wine and literature in mind when I named the bookstore,” he says.

To step into this literary haven is to be transported back in time to a world without the Internet and the worry of how to keep a book business running in the digital age, away from the trappings of tourism and technology that dominate Seville, as any historic European city today. Here, Cruz is content with the sanctuary he has created and the point he has reached in his personal life, with one tiny exception. “Something I’ve always had in mind is the possibility of owning a house with a garden so that I can sit and enjoy the twilight.”