Backyard Books

SPTLyubov Belyatskaya, owner of Vse Svobody, says she had always wanted to see an independent store selling rare literature in the city, and eventually decided to set up such a store herself.

A new bookstore offers 'intellectual literature non-stop' to customers who care more about a book's sentimental value than its current popularity. Those who can find the place are richly rewarded with a vast selection of books — and exotic teas.

It is not easy to find. A gate leads from Bolshaya Konyushennaya Ulitsa into a gloomy backyard. Then literary treasure-hunters have to follow a labyrinth of backyard alleys, all of which look the same: Low, darkened arches, walls painted in the ubiquitous sickly yellow tone, cats darting by in the corners.

The more-than-discreet entrance reveals a space that resembles a first-floor apartment more than a store. Once inside, however, the sagging bookshelves filling the large room leave no doubt that this is the right place. The shelves are packed with mind-bending literature separated by small signs categorizing genres: Political science, philosophy, sociology. Art, philology, history. And luckily, a significant slab of prose.

Books that have not been on sale at commercial stores for years can be found in this labyrinthine store.

The larger room housing the bookshelves is flanked by a smaller room, whose door bears a sign reading "stuff only." This is where proprietor Lyubov Belyatskaya talks about her pet project over a cup of Chinese tea, painstakingly prepared by her friend Igor, the shop's own tea master. Vse Svobodny (Everyone is Free) is not only a bookstore, it is also a tea salon.

"It's a very logical combination, since tea and good books go well together. I've always wanted to see a bookstore like this in the city, and I've always lived by the rule that if you want something done, you have to do it yourself," says 25-year old Belyatskaya.

Born and raised in Novosibirsk, Belyatskaya used to spend time at the local library where her mother worked. After developing an increasing interest in contemporary art and working with art and cinema in Novosibirsk for some time, she eventually left her remote hometown for St. Petersburg.

"Novosibirsk is far from civilization, and I had many reasons to move to St. Petersburg," she said. "I also wanted to work outside the commercial sector. An education in PR has made me a good organizer, but I wanted to use it in another way."

Belyatskaya got the idea for a rare books store when talking to friends from the Falanster store in Moscow. Traveling to Germany converted her to the philosophy of project housing, and upon her arrival in St. Petersburg, she realized that a bookstore could just as well be located in a backyard, as long as it has something special to offer.

"Getting a bank loan was easy," she said. "It was harder to find a location that was centrally located and wasn't too costly. I don't think it matters that we're not visible from the main streets — we don't compete with any of the other bookshops anyway," she added.

The underlying idea of Vse Svobodny is to provide people with intellectual literature that is hard to obtain elsewhere. Books that have not been on sale at commercial bookstores for years can still be found here in this labyrinthine store, the idea being that some books are too important to be out of stock.

"I have a lot of friends helping me with the selection, and we all choose books out of personal interest," said Belyatskaya, adding that she is absolutely positive that St. Petersburg needs an addition to the already vast realm of bookstores.

"St. Petersburg is Russia's cultural capital and has a large market. Of course there is a need for a shop with an intellectual approach. If nothing else, I need such a shop myself," she smiles.

White Nights June 2011
White Nights June 2011
The guide White Nights has an exciting article about famous St. Petersburg parks, recommends the best restaurants of the city, and also publishes a city map with useful information about places to eat and famous landmarks.
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