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Cărturești Carusel, Bucharest. The time-lapse of a building that stood still

The building was built to last and when the dictatorship was toppled, it was returned to its owners, resembling our nation: damaged but standing – In conversation with Daniel Voinea

Cărturești Carusel bookstore in Bucharest

Gregorio Zanacchi Nuti: What was the idea behind the refurbishment of the building that hosts the Cărturești Carusel bookstore in Bucharest?

Daniel Voinea: Our business model from the beginning was to create cultural experiences. The opportunity to open a bookstore in a national monument was the chance to work on a scale for Romania. The design of Cărturești Carusel was meant to captivate the customers through astonishment, thus the idea of natural skylight over the ceiling and the decorations on the innards. The building’s owner chose Georgetta Gabra, a Romanian architect, to direct the refurbishment. While she did the work, curating the reinforcement of the foundations, the columns and the facade, a second layer of arrangements was done by Square One, a team of architects we chose. Adding split levels between the floors was their idea and they contributed to the grandeur of the final result.

The aesthetic of the building

GZN: In designing the aesthetic of the building which architectural styles have you referred to?

DV: The building was realized in the Nineteenth century, a period of modification for Europe’s architecture: born in France and led to the model of open spaces, bringing into buildings the dimensions shown by plazas. Galeries Lafayette in Paris is a reference for this building, since they were built in this period and the Romanian architect who had overseen our building’s first project was looking abroad for design stimulation. While this style is visible in Europe, our building bears the influence of the Middle East’s bazaar model, linking shopping to an open space: at first our palace hosted activities on each level, from shops to banks. The day we started the restoration we searched for the original projects and found sketches: we had to improvise, tuning the building into one for modern needs by losing its concept.

Lampoon, Galeries Lafayette Paris Haussmann historic view
Galeries Lafayette Paris Haussmann historic view

The building’s history: a metaphor for the Romanian political situation

GZN: Can we say that the building’s history is a metaphor for the Romanian political situation? Most of the goods confiscated during the communist regime came back to their previous owners or is yours a fortuitous case?

DV: The communist regime was harsh with the ethnic groups living in Romania, nipping off their roots. The building’s owner is from Greek kin and, in an interview, he said that he never felt Greek until somebody told him ‘you know you are from a Greek family, right?’. Communists weren’t kind to the buildings either: the palace’s survival through those times is a miracle. Therefore it suffered damages and destruction and stealing of its decorations. The building was built to last and when the dictatorship was toppled. It was returned to its owners, resembling our nation: damaged but standing.

GZN: What is the process of curation behind the goods you sell at Cărturești Carusel, Bucharest?

DV: We focus on design: the company keeps up with trends visiting fairs around Europe. Other than books we have in store DVDs and music, and we build a layer of design around them. In deciding the merchandise that we want to feature, we keep an eye on the audience. Bringing them music and books to create a community that transcends age demographics. The purchase of Vinyl’s for the sake of collections is giving us the opportunity to sell in the music section, from jazz to early hip-hop. We don’t focus on what is available on the internet. Our team of buyers like to add to our shelves records that are unavailable elsewhere.

Readings, exhibitions and concerts

GZN: Cărturești Carusel hosts cultural events such as readings, exhibitions and concerts. How is the selection behind holding these events dealt with?

DV: We receive requests for live events and balance the store’s capacity with the audience’s flow, avoiding closing down on the public due to security related problems. At the opening we had acts from America and we had to close the store because two hundred people could come in, while a hundred remained outside. We have to be observant as we want to nurture a community, choosing events that can be appealing for customers, but keeping in mind our maximum capacity. We organize readings and theatrical pieces, but concerts are by far take the cake thanks to the audio resonance of our place.

GZN: Do the number of foreigners that come to visit the library lead you to choose books and films to showcase?

DV: The retail scene is the same over the world, with the market owned by franchises and their imported goods. We do not have work produced locally. The design sector, one of our focused sectors, isn’t thriving. There are complications in terms of profitability in selling local goods, because they are expensive to produce; harder to sell because not manufactured in batches. One of our goals is to sponsor and support local creativity and create a market, making Romanian products available in our stores. We held sponsorship programs on comic books and design projects. We held a festival in Bucharest with artist’s exhibitions in the streets.

Lampoon,  Cărturești Carusel, BucharestImages
Cărturești Carusel, BucharestImages Cosmir Dragomir

Cărturești Carusel commercial strategy

GZN: You are open to the idea of letting your customer inhabit your space before deciding what to buy. Do you condone this commercial strategy as the response to the diffusion of e-books and online shopping?

DV: When we requested feedback from customers as to why they visited our store, we found out that they aren’t visiting to buy books or records. But for the atmosphere: the idea of roaming beneath the shelves, taking your time to pick a book recreates a sense of intimacy that customers find reassuring. It puts us in a position when it comes to sales efficiency. However contemporary retail must invest in experiences, giving the customer something that they can’t get online. This was true when Internet shopping didn’t exist and you had to look out for other bookstores. It is relevant today when you compete with offline and online retailers. Despite the Covid-19 crisis, we are investing in tangible experiences for our customers.

GZN: The atmosphere of the library has led to a production of photos shared on social media.

DV: People visit us and post their pictures online. It can be appreciated in terms of publicity, but it should be taken lightly. I have worked here for twenty years. When we started, we had no Internet nor social media. Nobody was concerned with taking pictures of one reading a book or having coffee inside the bookshop. What gets people talking on Instagram and Facebook aren’t experiences. If you want to get visibility on Instagram you don’t have to enter this building. You can shoot photos from a corner of your room and be consistent. We are not technophobes though. During the lockdown, we had people working at home and implemented changes to adapt to the environment. Involving the web: we had festivals and readings online.

20 years of activity at Cărturești Carusel

GZN: You are celebrating 20 years of activity.

DV: The store first opened in November 2000: we settled in a shop of 40 square meters. One year later we asked our customers what they wanted. They requested we add space, we opened another store in Bucharest. The business was growing, we continued to open a shop every two years. Today, we have 48 shops in Romania. We have collaborations in Europe and America. Publishers in London asked us about having a bookstore there and we inaugurated a showroom in Manhattan, for exhibitions.

Cărturești Carusel

Strada Lipscani 55, București, Romania

Gregorio Zanacchi Nuti

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

check and buy on Prototipo Store
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Hemp / made in Italy
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check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore
Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only
natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us at [email protected]

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