Abu Dhabi: When Lebanese expat Tahseen Khayat first came to Abu Dhabi in his twenties, he had a clear vision: he wanted to set up the UAE capital’s first bookshop.
Within a year or so, he had achieved it, with the first All Prints bookshop opening its doors in 1969. Over the years, it soon became a favourite haunt for bookworms.
“Our first store was on Airport Road opposite Al Manhal Palace,” Khayat, now in his 70s, told Gulf News. He said many VVIPs have been his customers over the years which has been a very great honour.
The store was fittingly recognised as an Urban Treasure this summer by the Department of Culture and Tourism.
Khayat, who called it a “tremendous honour”, was happy to share his memories of the UAE capital at a time when it was a “one-street city”.
Although still very young when he arrived in Abu Dhabi, Khayat had experience in the book trade in his hometown of Beirut, and developed it further by opening another bookshop in Kuwait. He decided to come to the UAE upon hearing tell of its growing status, and because he had a few friends in town, including Zaki Nusseibeh, now cultural advisor to the UAE President.
“When we landed at the airport in a propellor airplane, there were only barracks in sight. We had to wait for the dust to settle before disembarking, and we had to carry our own suitcase to the tiny airport. We got our passports stamped, and then headed out into Abu Dhabi. This was my first experience [of the city],” Khayat remembered.
Even though there were two small hotels in town at the time, Khayat said he was fortunate to be able to stay in a villa with Nusseibeh, who worked for the UAE’s founding father, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Soon after arriving, he approached the leadership to set up a bookshop. Khayat said his idea was roundly greeted, and there was great encouragement for him to succeed.
“I found a space at what was called the Mohammad Al Hurr building, and brought in a number of titles in Arabic, English, and French. We would also bring in the latest magazines and regional newspapers. At a time when there was no Internet, encyclopaedias were also a big draw for residents. We also had the BBC language tapes that the people wanted,” Khayat said.
The store did well, catering to both Emirati and expat customers. By the 1980s, All Prints had become a household name that residents visited to get their reading fix. It eventually shifted to another location for a short while, then moved to its current location on Hamdan Bin Moahmmed Street in the 1990s.
The company branched out into publishing, and also began to stock the latest softwares and digital education technologies to keep up with the times. It also undertook teacher training for educators, supporting Abu Dhabi in its ongoing transformation from an oil-producing hub to a knowledge economy.
Meanwhile, Khayat, who split his time between Lebanon, the UAE and the UK, had married. He became a father to five children, of whom two settled in the UAE. One of them, Nadia, is now All Prints’ managing director.
Till today, the bookshop is one of the most well-loved institutions in Abu Dhabi, with long-term expats having cherished memories of thumbing through their favourite reads at the store. Looking ahead, Khayat said he was blessed to have his achievements in a ‘noble field’ that has promoted education, arts and culture in the UAE.
“I promise we will do even better, and continue supporting the UAE,” Khayat said.