Moskva Reads: Famed Bookstore Turns 50

MTThe bookshop on Tverskaya Ul. has had a varied history, barely surviving the turbulent 90s but thriving again today.
Fifty years after it first opened its doors, the Moskva bookstore celebrates its anniversary with an exhibition at the Tretyakov Gallery.

The bookstore, which has survived censorship, the economic woes of the 1990s and the fact that no more than two people can ever walk past its tightly packed shelves at the same time, looks at how the face of the reader changes in the exhibition "Homo Legens: Man Reads."

The exhibit features paintings, sculptures and drawings connected to reading from the 18th century to the 20th century and includes a portrait of a young Anna Akhmatova holding a book.

Another part of the exhibit at the Tretyakov, "My Favorite Book," presents the favorite reads of famous Russians such as writers Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Sergei Lukyanenko and director Renata Litvinenko.

The beloved books, with an inscription by the famous person who chose each one, will be given out to the winners of a lottery that will be held at the Moskva shop on Dec. 6. Entry tickets to the museum will act as lottery tickets.

The face of reading has changed over the Moskva's life span too.

"It seems to me like the store has always been there," said Alexander Ivanovich, professor of geography at Moscow State University. "I remember 40 years ago, when my parents and I would sometimes drop by to pick out some kind of book for me."

Tretyakov Gallery
Paintings celebrating reading in an exhibition at the Tretyakov Gallery.

Ivanovich remembers how as a child he would walk an hour and a half with his parents to get to the Moskva. "Looking back, it seems to me that they had everything -- though, of course, I know they did not."

In those times, books were a deficit product -- customers were restricted to buying one book when the shop opened -- and there was a great thirst for reading.

"To subscribe to [an author's] collected works, people would stand all night," said Marina Kamenev, the director of the store, in an interview with Vremya Novostei newspaper. Mounted police would keep order by the entrance.

"We, the store's staff, could hold the deficit books which we dreamed about in our hands, but we couldn't even look at them, let alone buy them," she said. "Everything was very strict.

"The crowd flowed in when the shop opened. We had to hold back the onslaught -- the books were all snapped up."

When the Soviet Union broke up, things changed drastically as "people did not have enough for food, let alone books."

"I saw how elderly customers counted kopecks, and I gave them the missing money to buy books," she said.

The shop, parked on one of the city's prime locations, barely survived and had to fend off greedy businesses in the 1990s, said Kamenev.

"I won't hide the fact that it was not simple...You know that LogoVAZ laid claim to our premises," said Kamenev, referring to the Russian automobile giant. "But, as before, there is a boostore here, not a car showroom."

It was loyal customers and staff who helped the bookshop make it to 50 years.

They are grateful, she said, to these people who were "drawn to reading in tough times."

The Moskva bookstore is located at 8 Tverskaya Ul. Working hours: 10:00 to 01:00. The exhibition "Homo Legens: Man Reads" runs through Nov. 30 at the State Tretyakov Gallery, 10 Lavrushinsky pereulok. 951-1362.