We’ve been here, on the same site and in the same shopping arcade, since 1897, and we’ve been independent for most of that time. Most of our books are in the humanities, and we stock books in nine different languages – English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Norwegian, Danish and of course Swedish. We also have classic texts in Latin and Ancient Greek too, although we don’t include them in the total languages count. We started off just selling books in Swedish and over time we’ve added more and more books in other languages – for example we’ve stocked English books since the 1950s and when the Chileans arrived here in the 70s, escaping the Pinochet regime, we started our Spanish section. But Swedish people are pretty multi-lingual too. Our customers are drawn from the reading middle-class of Stockholm, so it’s what they expect from us.
The people who shop here tend to be very well read, and educated to a high standard, so we have to work hard to surprise them with the choices we make for the store. That’s the secret of making them buy their books here, rather than going online or picking up a book with their groceries. I’ve been here since 1981. We’re fortunate to have very low staff turn-over – I last hired a bookseller seven years ago – which means that the 12 people who work here become experts on the books that they buy and sell. I try to hire nice people who love reading books.
Everyone is responsible for their own sections. I mainly look after travel, cookery, and the illustrated porn section. The porn books are between medicine and sport and psychology – they’re not hidden away. It’s a nice spot for them. I don’t think any of the other independent bookshops in Sweden have a similar section. But with titles like Waldlust, Alpenglu and Bavarian Landlust how can you ignore them?
Like everyone else, we’re selling a lot of the Neopolitan books by Elena Ferrante at the moment, but one of our perennial best-sellers is a Danish book by Fakir Falstaff called En Hvar Sin Egen Professor (Of All Human Knowledge) first published in 1894 in Lund, Sweden. It’s a crazy dictionary along the lines of Schott’s Miscellany. None of the entries are true, or make much sense, but it’s only around 100 pages and a really good fun book.
We’ve been here so long, people tend to assume we’ll always be here. People say they love having us in the city, especially in such a beautiful historic arcade, but that doesn’t always result in sales. They sometimes treat us like a museum for books, or a show room for the publishers. They’ll come in and browse for hours, tell us how much they like the shop, and then not actually buy anything. We recently ran a campaign about this very issue, pointing out that if people didn’t actually come to buy books from us, we could very easily end up as a branch of H&M. It worked – more people are buying from us these days, things are improving.
Christmas is an important time for us but as the festive season approaches, we won’t be bedecking the shop from ceiling to floor in decorations, this year or any year. That’s not really a very Scandinavian thing to do – it’s an American tradition. We’ll have a Christmas tree in the window, a few bits and pieces, but nothing at all extravagant. In the lead up to Christmas, we’ll stick to selling books. We won’t be bringing in a lot of extra merchandise. Over the summer we experimented with selling t-shirts from an American company (https://www.outofprintclothing.com) featuring the covers of out of print books, which went well, so we’ll keep stocking those, but we are a book shop, not a toy shop or a mug and key ring shop, so we concentrate on selling books. It’s as simple as that.
We spoke to Nicklas, bookseller and owner at Hedengrens.
Hedengrens Bokhandel is at Stureplan 4, 114 85 Stockholm.
Telephone: 8-611 51 28