Saturday, November 30, 2013

Evviva Libreria Marco Polo! An Inspiring Tale

The proprietor of Libreria Marco Polo, Claudio, speaks with a customer
Some months ago Libreria Marco Polo was issued a multa (ticket) for posting an event flyer on a wall not far from the store. In the realm of illicit activity this hardly seems like a major offense, but the city of Venice does a brisk business in a whole array of required stamps on everything from event notices on public property to a one year lease renewal and such stamps (each of which, of course, comes at a price) are a source of revenue they're eager to protect. How eager? Well, the fine levied on Libreria Marco Polo for posting a flyer without the required city stamp was 1,000 euros.

To a bookstore--like all independent bookstores--already surviving on a narrow margin, this blow was heavy enough to almost knock it out of business. But the owners of the store decided to keep their doors open and file an appeal to the multa as unmerited and excessive.

Recently the bookstore received a response to this appeal from the city: the fine was reduced to 680 euros.

Places to sit aren't unusual in US bookstores, but this bench is the only such accommodation to readers that I've seen in a Venice bookstore; this room is almost entirely devoted to used titles in English
This was still a lot to pay for any independent bookstore, much less one whose total floor space can't run much more then 400 square feet. So last Thursday the bookstore sent out an email to its supporters asking for contributions toward the payment of the 680 euro fine.

I went to the store late the next afternoon intending to contribute and then return home to post a blog about the situation, providing the store's Paypal address to which donations could be sent anytime before December 8.

A partial view of the used and new section of Italian titles
But I was too late. When I arrived the store's owner, Claudio, told me the entire 680 euros had already been received from supporters both in person and from afar--in just a little more than 24 hours since his email had gone out.

Claudio still seemed a little surprised, maybe even a bit awed, by such a rapid and generous response, and I found myself thinking of the last scene of the Frank Capra film  It's a Wonderful Life. The last scene of that movie has often struck me as a little over the top, rather hokey--but in the bookstore, in real life, that is, the outpouring of support wasn't hokey at all, but authentically impressive.

Of course the point of that last raucous scene of communal generosity in the Capra film is to offer concrete evidence of what an important role the protagonist (portrayed by Jimmy Stewart) has played in the life of his small town, and so, too, the show of support for Libreria Marco Polo--no less marvelous, and hardly less magical (even without the films' angel character)--is a testament to the vital and inspiring role that a small independent bookstore can continue to play in the life of a city.

And I'm pleased to pass along the information that the bookstore is poised to potentially play an even bigger part in the Friday night life of this generally pretty sleepy and early-to-bed city by extending its hours on that particular evening to 11 pm. It's the only bookstore in the city to offer a late night of this sort, and it also remains the only bookstore in the city with a place for browsers to sit down and look over potential purchases or to relax and read what they've just bought. I know of no other bookstore in the city so welcoming--it even has free tea available--and if you aren't already familiar with its fine selection of used books in English, its always-interesting and provocative selection of new books in Italian, along with smaller sections of used books in Italian, French and German, I'd suggest it's worth seeking out, tucked away behind the beautiful little parish church of San Giovanni Gristostomo, a short walk from the Rialto Bridge.

Now open until 11pm every Friday night


  1. Happy to see that people are using their power to help local stores. Your post made me laugh at the memory of the "bollo", an easy tax revenue that pales in comparison to the taxes la finanza could go after if they did a better job at controls.

    There are so many things I am grateful for in the States, one is the freedom of posting fliers anywhere, without the fear of a hefty fine.

    I will have to check out this bookstore next time I am there.

    Thanks for sharing this story.

    1. Ah, Laura, you must not live in NYC, or at least certain neighborhoods, in which posting flyers on, say, lamp posts is also forbidden! But then in many ways living for years in NYC is very good preparation for living in Italy.

      I'm glad the story interested you, and hope you will get the chance to check out the store the next time you're in town.

  2. We, who know the Libreria Marco Polo, are grateful for this wonderful description of this particular bookshop. Thanks a lot!

    1. Da niente, Tisone, it's a store I'd hate to be without! A store I keep returning to, both in daily life and in this blog, as I think this is the third post I've written about it.

  3. Thanks for the bookshop's address. I did repost to my blog. ))

    1. Thank you, Arial. And now you have me wondering if the store has any books in Russian.

  4. I love that bookstore, and admire Claudio so much! (And, he has the nicest smile in the world, as a bonus.)

    What an absolutely heartwarming story to hear, Siggie, thank you for telling us.

    It made a sweet contrast to your latest post re: the vandal.


    1. Thanks, Yvonne, I agree with everything you say above. Just like the inspiration for the pink and black colors of the Palermo calcio team, life here (like being a fan of that particular team) is both sweet and bitter. I'm glad you thought this post offset the other.