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The Little Bookshop

Step off Jeanne D’Arc street and listen for the jazz. If you follow the smooth notes, inevitably you will be brought to the doorstep of The Little Bookshop, where open yellow doors beckon.

The charming space is packed floor to ceiling with English-language books. The walls are meticulously lined with colorful spines arranged by genre and author, the beautiful titles themselves as much a part the aesthetic as the lighting and music. Though there are no set hours, usually between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., you will find owner Adib Rahhal sitting behind his desk. Most likely, he will be in conversation with someone about literature.

Rahhal was looking to create a quiet refuge amidst the noise of Beirut where people can get together to talk about his longtime passion: books. The motivation was not financial, but rather born out of his love for the written word and a desire to add to the small scene of English-language bookshops in the city.

“Books can have an impact on someone. If I can contribute to that, it makes me happy,” he said.

The selection is handpicked by Rahhal and truly serving the wants of the customer, usually a fair amount of the books on the shelves have been recommended by patrons themselves, he said.

Business has been slow and steady, with Rahhal estimating at least a few hundred having visited since the opening in May of this year. The Little Bookshop offers up a variety of genres in English including contemporary fiction, classics, non-fiction, the humanities, plays, poetry, film, music, along with a small but growing selection of jazz, blues and rock.

For those who read solely on a Kindle, you won’t find e-books or an appreciation of them here. The focus is not just on content but the look of the book as well. Aesthetics are important to Rahhal, a fact that is clearly obvious upon entering the shop. The space is small, but there is an artfully organized eclectic look consistent across the shelves. He looks for collections such as the Library of America that are a little more costly, but clothbound and hand sewn, are made to last a lifetime.

“The idea is if you give something like this to a young reader, the book is beautiful, they might appreciate books more”, he says.

A friend from the neighborhood and a fellow book enthusiast, Wahib Maalouf talked about how the space was great for both finding new authors and having a place nearby to have conversations about books.

Mentioning the author J.M. Coetzee that he newly discovered through hanging out in The Little Bookshop Maalouf said, “Of course you have the classic books, which you are not surprised to find, but you find books that you never thought of.”

As we were sitting together having a Nescafe coffee, a tourist from Belgium walked in to buy The House of Many Mansions by Kamal Salibi. “I didn’t know it existed [The Little Bookshop]. Normally I’d go to Antoine or Virgin. It’s very cozy and inviting, a pleasure to be here”, Veronique Booten said.

Rahhal’s passion supersedes competition. He believes every bookshop in the city has something unique that to add for a searching reader. Ultimately, it is about sharing books and conversation with as many people as you can. “I see it as the more bookshops, the better. Each bookshop complements the other in one way or another”, he says.

Customers can call ahead to make sure the yellow doors will be open and unlocked when they get there!

Melissa Tabeek

Contact information:
Makdisi Building
Off Jeanne d’Arc Street, Hamra
(01) 740270

[Photos by Melissa Tabeek]

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