The Creativity Of Independent Booksellers: Mattia Garavaglia

If people can't go to the bookshop, someone's got to bring the books to them.

Independent Booksellers Mattia Garavaglia
Mattia Garavaglia is the owner of the Libreria del Golem in Turin. Photo courtesy of Mattia Garavaglia.

A few days ago I was about to google something when, right below the search bar, I noticed a suggested article about the story of Mattia Garavaglia, “the man using Google Maps to deliver books by bike.” I opened the page and soon realized that his work is worth sharing. So I got in touch with him and he kindly agreed to have a little chat with me.

Mattia is the owner of the Libreria del Golem in Turin: he decided to open his own bookstore 4 years ago and since then — despite the difficulties of the first months — he continued to grow his business. The pandemic, which looked set to become a threatening moment, didn’t stop him. On the contrary, he took the challenge head-on and demonstrated that even the hardest times can be tackled with the right amount of inventiveness and flexibility:

“Since people couldn’t come to the bookshop, I decided to bring the bookshop to them. The response to my idea was great: people repaid my commitment, as I reached more customers and delivered books constantly. Now that the physical store is open again, everything has become more fluid: if someone prefers to receive their books at home, I still take my bike and go.”

What adds even more value to the solution that Mattia found to bypass the forced stop to the natural flow of people inside the shop, is the fact that by using the bicycle as a means of transport, he made a sustainable choice. With his bike, indeed, he is able to combine ethics, cost savings, and fun, since cycling is one of his greatest passions. He also explaines that using a bike allows him to better manage his bookstore:

“Everyone thinks that books are delivered to my shop, but no, I personally go to the distributor. I wouldn’t get there by car for a single book since, besides polluting, I would also spend more than I earn. However, with my bike I can go every time I need, and this reduces wait times between a client’s request and the book’s availability in the bookstore.”

Another trait of Mattia’s activity is the collaboration with fellow bookshop owners and independent publishing houses. I told him that I had found the name of his bookstore on the Eris edizioni website: in a previous article I wrote about independent bookstores, I had already mentioned an initiative they launched during the months of lockdown. Mattia replied that the idea was to raise awareness about the positive contribution that bookshops bring to the social fabric. That’s why they decided to support bookshops by giving them — for every order placed through their store online — the same percentage they would have been entitled to if they had sold the books themselves. As Mattia put it: “It was as if Eris edizioni’s website was my bookshop.”

The ingeniousness and teamwork of Leonardo Taiuti, Mattia, and other young people has given life to Bookdealer. Launched in August 2020, it is an ethical and cheap e-commerce (the website doesn’t withhold a percentage on the purchase made by the bookseller) which is designed to support independent bookstores:

“When you sign in to Bookdealer, you can connect with the soul of the bookshop: in fact, they each have their profile where you can find advice, reading paths, ‘independent’ or ‘wrong’ packs — all ways to ‘meet’ the bookseller. For example, if you choose to buy one of these packs, you also decide how much you want to spend; then the bookseller will select the books for you. This makes the online purchase less impersonal: it is like going to the actual bookstore.”

Mattia has created a real community. He helps homeless people by raising money to buy basic necessities, he supports non-profit organizations such as No name kitchen, he joins forces with other bookstores in an atmosphere of mutual support, and he thinks of his libreria as more than a mere book-selling site. He considers it a place where people can go not only to buy, but also to find a relaxed and cozy atmosphere. It is the place where people can find the true Mattia:

“My bookstore is myself: inside it, you can find my personality. Likewise, in other bookshops, you will find different people and choices: that is what makes every independent bookstore unique.”

So I asked Mattia what is the common added value of independent bookstores and he answered that there are still some things that characterize all of them, although in different way: “the rediscovery of catalogs; knowing editors in person; working closely with independent publishing houses — those who risk and publish valuable works; and of course, working with a more ‘artisanal’ approach.”

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