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Tallinn’s First Art Bookstore Opens 0

Along with coffee-shop culture, small design shops and farmers' markets, there is another type of retail establishment that gives cities their charm. This would be the small bookstore that is usually run by a staff consisting of a couple of people, and whose specially-selected books have a personal aura to them. It may seem surprising, but the very first specialized art bookstore in Tallinn has just opened – not far from the Old Town and just a few hundred meters from the sea, in the courtyard of EKKM, aka, the “illegal” Estonian Contemporary Art Museum.

Under the name of Lugemik, the two-person team of photographer Anu Vahtra and graphic designer Indrek Sirkel has been publishing the catalogs of young artists for several years. But since the end of April, the name Lugemik can now also be found on the door of their newly-opened bookstore. “After working in publishing for a while, it was the natural next step,” says Anu, who had made an exception for by opening the shop on a Tuesday morning, since regular hours are only Thursday through Sunday. The bookstore carries not only books published by Lugemik and other Estonian artists, but also a wide range of books on art, architecture, design, photography and theory, in English, from publishing houses such as Sternberg Press in Berlin, and Rollo Press in Zurich, among others. Books can be bought not only on-site in Tallinn, but also on-line (through PayPal). Even though it's possible to get practically everything through online shops these days, Anu is convinced that bookstores are still viable, even necessary. “A book is a tactile object; it is important to feel it in your hands, to look at it, and to come into physical contact with it before purchasing it.”

Lugemik is located in a former warehouse – a one-story, garage-like building that belongs to EKKM. Anu and Indrek refurbished it and installed a glass wall and doors, and in exchange for having done the job of overhauling the space, they currently don't pay any rent; they also sell EKKM's books, which have usually been graphically designed by Sirkel. They plan on getting new furniture in the near future, but for now, they're making do with rented scaffolding (for 1 EUR/day) that serves as three bookshelves and a display table. Students helped out a lot in the renovation of the shop – Anu teaches photography at the Art Academy of Estonia. The names of these students, and other helpers and supporters, have been engraved onto a steel plaque hanging on the wall of the shop. In accordance with the spirit of “co-working”, Lugemik shares the space with the exhibition-design company, White Cube.

“Running a bookstore is like a dream come true: you have the opportunity to select, order and read all of the coolest books – all of which you could never afford to buy for yourself,” laughs Anu. New merchandise is being ordered practically continually, since the bookstore just opened and is still actively making new contacts with various publishing houses. The public response has been good.

Anu admits that it's going to take time to observe customers' habits so that they can gauge how many copies of a book should be ordered. “In these first two weeks, it's been really busy; people come and buy things, but I'm most happy about the fact that they don't feel bothered here, and some of them even take their time to look through several books.” In answer to what are her three current favorites at the shop, Ana recommends three small books – Silk Handkerchiefs: Trilogy (2009, 2011, 2013; published by TRUE TRUE TRUE, Amsterdam). Written by British painter Paul Haworth, the books describe, in quite racy language, the daily life of an artist and his attempts at “making it big”. “If it seems interesting to us, and it is somehow linked to art, then we'll order literature as well.”

Anu and Indrek work as a pair in doing book design, layout, publishing and in the running of the bookstore. “We've learned that if you have an idea, make something of it! Do it, bring it to life – and eventually, you'll reach your goal.” Lugemik rarely applies for state funding, preferring to find support in other ways; for now, it's working.