Bookstores Are Keeping This Tiny Spanish Village Alive
Standing on a hilltop in northwestern Spain, Urueña overlooks a vast and windswept landscape of sunflower and barley fields, as well as a famous winery. The walls of some shops are built directly into the 12th-century ramparts of the village.
Despite its rugged beauty, Urueña, like many villages in the Spanish countryside, has struggled over recent decades with an aging and dwindling population that has left it stagnant at about only 100 full-time residents. There is no butcher and no baker; both retired in the past few months. The local school has just nine students.
But for the past decade or so, one business has been thriving in Urueña: books. There are 11 stores that sell books, including nine dedicated bookshops.
“I was born in a village that didn’t have a bookstore and where people certainly cared a lot more about farming their land and their animals than about books,” said Francisco Rodríguez, the 53-year-old mayor of Urueña. “This change is a bit strange, but it’s a source of pride for a tiny place to have become a cultural center, which now also certainly makes us different and special compared to the other villages around us.”
The attempt to turn Urueña into a literary hub dates to 2007, when provincial authorities invested about 3 million euros to help restore and convert village buildings into bookstores and to construct an exhibition and conference center. They offered a symbolic rental fee of 10 euros per month to people interested in running a bookstore.
The plan was to keep Urueña alive with book tourism, modeling it after other rural literary hubs across Europe — notably, Montmorillon in France and Hay-on-Wye in Britain. Hay has long hosted one of the continent’s most famous literary festivals.
Spain has one of Europe’s biggest book-publishing markets, feeding a network of about 3,000 independent bookstores — and double that number if stationery shops and other places that sell books are counted. But about 40% of bookstores have less than 90,000 euros in annual revenue, which amounts to operating “a subsistence business,” according to Álvaro Manso, spokesperson for CEGAL, an association that represents Spain’s independent bookstores.
“The trend is one in which size matters and more of the very small bookstores will disappear” as they have in other countries where book sectors have consolidated, Manso said.
文／Raphael Minder 譯／李京倫