1676378525 The agony of Brazils largest bookstore a work of art

The agony of Brazil’s largest bookstore, a “work of art” with 55 million debts

The atmosphere was a strange mix of wake and tourist attraction. Dozens of curious people turned out this Sunday to see the agony of Livraria Cultura in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest bookstore, described by Nobel laureate José Saramago as “a modern, efficient, beautiful cathedral of books”. After filing for bankruptcy on Thursday, the flagship store of one of Latin America’s largest bookstore networks is still open to the public, albeit with half-empty shelves. A sad afterword for an enterprise whose seeds were planted by Eva Herz, a German Jew who came to Brazil with her husband in 1939, fleeing the Nazis. The difficulties were so great that the housewife of the banker’s daughter worked out a deal. He bought ten books in German abroad and rented them out to his fellow countrymen who had fled for a few coins. A family business with 17 branches and five million customers was born. “We will not let Livraria Cultura die,” declared Sergio Herz, the founder’s grandson.

Livraria Cultura was a company and is a real institution in São Paulo, although it has been burdened by debts and internal grievances for years. There is only one branch left, the one in Porto Alegre. Macabre irony, the booklet O Livreiro, in which Pedro Herz, Eva’s son and father of the current manager, tells the fascinating story of the family business, is sold out these days, as a taciturn employee explained this Sunday in the care of those who came to saying goodbye to a temple or looking for a balance. The bookstore Herz opened the distribution in 1947 in his house in São Paulo with ten titles, including “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “Doctor Zhivago”, according to an old report in the cultural magazine “Bula”.

The bookstore that José Saramago called The bookstore that José Saramago called “a cathedral of books, modern, efficient, beautiful”, Lela Beltrão

In the good old days, the elegant yet grandiose three-story bookcase with a model dinosaur in flight became a tourist attraction and a convenient backdrop for selfies. It still occupies the largest area of ​​the Conjunto Nacional, the first shopping center inaugurated in the city, on Avenida Paulista, where the mansions of coffee barons once stood majestically. A few years ago he bought the FNAC stores in Brazil.

The news of the bankruptcy surprised economics journalist João Borges at Livraria Cultura, who signed copies of the book he had just published. “As fate would have it, the release of my book was the last event that the bookstore was alive. It was around nine-thirty at night when a colleague broke the news to me,” says the author of Eles não são loucos (You Are Not Crazy, published by Companhia das Letras, a chronicle of the peculiarities of the handover of power between Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Lula , who had just won his first election). “It was a painful note on a night that was joyful for me. Friends, colleagues, three former finance ministers, five former finance ministers came…”.

The journalist João Borges, last Thursday during the presentation of his book The journalist João Borges, last Thursday during the presentation of his book “Eles não são loucos” at the Livraria Cultura, where he was with his guests when they found out about the bankruptcy. With kind approval

The judge who declared bankruptcy also wanted to express in his judgment that Livreria Cultura is much more than a company. In his verdict, he recalled that the Portuguese Nobel laureate in literature wrote that this bookshop was “a work of art”, stressing its importance for society, readers and consumers, before stating his personal opinion: “Although this judge has a precise idea of ​​such importance , he acknowledges with some sadness that in the legal field the group has not been able to overcome its crisis successfully,” wrote Ralpho Monteiro. The judge argues that the company failed to comply with the court’s required reorganization plan years ago when it filed $55 million in debt.

Hours after the bankruptcy, several publishers took thousands of copies in vans from the São Paulo store, which houses a theater and cafe named after the matriarch. The remaining books have been hastily rearranged to create a semblance of normality in a place that has long housed publishers with their own sales.

Ms. Herz, who died in 2001, had little idea that this modest attempt to raise money for the family’s precarious economy would grow into one of the largest bookstore networks in Brazil – a business on the scale of her new country – before it languished with the crisis, threatening the publishing industry worldwide.

The staircase of the Livraria Cultura adorned with some of the most important titles in literature.The staircase of the Livraria Cultura adorned with some of the most important titles in literature: Lela Beltrão

In order to diversify its audience, the bookstore began renting works by Brazilian authors such as Machado de Assis, Jorge Amado or Raquel de Queiroz. The small business prospered so much that Herz’s Circulating Library added so many books that the family had to move. After being dedicated to renting for 24 years, they were put up for sale. Pedro Herz, one of the couple’s two children, both born in Brazil, went to Europe to train as a bookseller.

In 2018, when Livraria Cultura had just bought FNAC Brazil and was taking over the world, the founder’s son recounted in the aforementioned interview that what happened was “a crisis of readers, not a crisis of books”. Books are not sold in Brazil because this is a country with fewer readers every day. Books are even cheap here. Saying they are expensive is justification for many not to buy.”

This weekend, a veteran of Brazilian literature accused Ms. Herz’s grandchildren of “megalomania, arrogance and inefficiency” of failure.

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