I think it was in 1995 that Mojca and I started to work as a part time shop assistants at U Knihomola, one of the two main international bookshops of those days Prague.
We liked it. I especially liked this strange, crazy, wonderful American Jewish bookseller that came over from England to manage the store. He worked hard, he knew his books, his eyes were shining, and he was fun. His name was Zachary. Zachary Thomas Cohn, “from a small town Saluda in North Carolina”.
Well, in 1997 I graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. I started as a young painter and finished as a conceptual artist. There was a huge gap between my understanding of art and the reality of pursuing an artist’s career.
Some time in 1996 or 1997 we went to movies and saw Wayne Wang’s Smoke. Thanks to that movie I realised that even a small retail store, if done properly, can stand for a living work of art.
The first thing when we came back to Prague was to ask Zachary (that wonderful American Jewish bookseller) to teach us how to run a bookshop. Yes, we were naive, we were just kids. But Zachary cared about us. “How about we do it together?” – I can still hear him say.
And so in the Spring of 1998 we opened Anagram bookshop in Prague. In the years that followed we learned the basics. We met Maja, Miro and Ana, Natalya and Mari, Danica, Reinier, Marko, Kliment, Micah and Barbara, another Natalya, Josh, Denis, Markéta, Pavel and Zuzka. We experienced NATO Summit, 9-11, and the great flood of 2002. It gave us five incredible, strange, beautiful, intense years. On the 1st of May 2003 we moved to Ljubljana. By that time Zachary was already in New York, and Prague sadly lost it’s nineties appeal.
Behemot bookshop opened on the 4th of November 2005. I think it took about nine months for all the preparation work. We designed and built our bookshelves in the old fashioned way, just like Zach tauhgt us. We already had our computer and we brought our CD player from home. I drew our bookmarks. We didn’t have any advertisments. We did not have any press releases announcing our opening. All we had was a big “opening soon” sign in our window. So the only people that knew we were about to open were our neighbours. It was Friday. We opened at 10 AM. And I am stil very thankful for what happened that Friday. All we try to do ever since is widen the neighbourhood.
Many good and bad days followed. We met Katarina, Maša, Tonko, Neža, Toma, Tjaša, Tadeja, Aljoša, Ana, and Meta. We saw Borders going down. We saw Ljubljana as UNESCO World Book Capital. We saw a local bookselling chain eat two independent bookstores. We are witnessing the birth of digital books. We are lucky. We live in very interesting times. And yet we still do believe in cultural significance of a small independent bookshop.
To me, independent in the first place means that nothing and no one interfers with how we choose our books. We are independent in our decisions which titles from which publishers we’ll have on our shelves.
Bookshelves tell stories. I remember Zachary once said: “When you walk into a bookshop – it has to be clear that there is mind at work behind those shelves.” Mind at work. We choose books with educated curiosity and curated passion. We choose the most tempting, the most beautiful and the most important books in a wide range of subjects. We choose them for you. Dear readers, thank you for being who you are and thus supporting us in being who we are.