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EUROBOOKS CELEBRATES ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

Bookshop an English lifeline

When Big Ben Bookshop on Bratislava's Michalská ulica shut its doors last spring, foreigners in the capital city were left with few outlets at which to purchase English-language books. Most book stores in the Old Town limit their English selections to a shelf or two, mainly dictionaries, grammar books, travel guides, and maybe some Penguin Classics.
But soon after the departure of Big Ben, a new shop entered the scene: Eurobooks, which celebrated its first anniversary on June 15, and today offers any book available in English to its customers.
"It's usually the first place I go for books in Bratislava," said Dušan Djurovič, himself an aspiring English-language author. "I'm not really a book-reading fanatic. But, I've been quite satisfied with Eurobooks."


For those with a hankering for a good read, this Bratislava bookstore can serve up the goods within a month.
photo: Ján Svrček

When Big Ben Bookshop on Bratislava's Michalská ulica shut its doors last spring, foreigners in the capital city were left with few outlets at which to purchase English-language books. Most book stores in the Old Town limit their English selections to a shelf or two, mainly dictionaries, grammar books, travel guides, and maybe some Penguin Classics.

But soon after the departure of Big Ben, a new shop entered the scene: Eurobooks, which celebrated its first anniversary on June 15, and today offers any book available in English to its customers.

"It's usually the first place I go for books in Bratislava," said Dušan Djurovič, himself an aspiring English-language author. "I'm not really a book-reading fanatic. But, I've been quite satisfied with Eurobooks."

After checking the stock of some 10 book stores in Bratislava, I found that the Reduta bookshop (off Hviezdoslavovo námestie, on Paleckého street) had the most extensive selection, with just three shelves of English literature (plus smaller selections in Spanish, German, Italian and French).

So I headed for Eurobooks, the only shop in Bratislava which is completely dedicated to English literature. The shop is small, about the size of a bedroom in a standard Slovak flat. And since the shelves did not hold the titles I was looking for, I asked for help.

Eurobooks owner and founder Karol Fajth explained that his store had 4,000 titles in house, and that any book in English could be ordered, delivery pledged within a month. He promised that the price would be equal, or less than, the cover price in British pounds (books are imported from Britain, rather than the US, to cut shipping costs); he also quoted a price from the day the order was placed, regardless of whether the crown tumbled against the pound while my book was being sent to Bratislava.


One of the small irritations of life as an expat can be lack of reading material.
photo: Ján Svrček

"First, I check the supplier availability," Fajth said, logging onto the Internet. He then typed in the author I requested (Martin Amis), followed by the book title (The Information).

Several options for the book appeared on screen, ranging in price from nine pounds to 24. Fajth clicked on the cheapest one (standard practice unless a customer prefers a more expensive edition, such as the hardback version), and placed the order. He then translated the pound-price into Slovak crowns, according to that day's exchange rates, and quoted the price (about 600 crowns).

"Because I go through suppliers, I can often sell books even below their cover price," he said, handling a Dick Francis trilogy which had a price listing of 9.99 pounds (700 crowns), but which Eurobooks was selling for 661 crowns.

"I can remember when the pound was at 50 crowns [today it's at 70]," he continued. "This is the main risk: when the pound rises, prices for books rise here in Slovakia as well. The books I sell are always equal to the prices in the West - where they are printed. But when the crown weakens, the prices go too high for most Slovaks."

Although he sells no domestic novels, Fajth says that 75% of his customers are Slovak. Silvia Hanusová, the owner of the SFA English-language bookshop in Košice also said that most of her clients were Slovak.

"The difference between Slovaks and native speakers is that foreigners are regular customers," Fajth said. "We get a lot of American teachers living in Bratislava who come in. We have a Canadian teacher from Piešťany who is also a regular."

When asked why he launched an English-language book store in Slovakia, Fajth sighed before answering. "To start a business in this country, you have to be a bit crazy," he said. "I worked for 12 years as a journalist with [the daily] Pravda, and one day I just decided that I did not want to be dependent on [anyone]. So I started my own business."

But for Fajth, his venture is more than just an avoidance of having a boss - it's also a personal pleasure. "Selling books is different than selling cars," he says. "To do this, you have to have a relationship with literature."

Euro books is located in Bratislava on Jesenského ulica, down the street from the National Opera House. It is open weekdays 8:30-18:30, Saturdays 9-13:00. Books can also be ordered from Eurobooks on its web-site www.eurobooks.sk; the site is in Slovak, but will be also in English "in a couple of weeks," says Fajth.

In Košice, English-language books can be purchased at SFA bookshop on Hlavná 97. The shop has 2,000 titles on its shelves, and books can also be ordered. SFA is open weekdays 9:00-18:00, Saturdays 10:00-13:00. Store owner Hanusová can be reached at 095 623 3676. Both Fajth and Hanusová speak English.

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