London: Al Saqi Books, Europe's largest Middle Eastern specialist bookseller in London, is closing its doors after 44 years, in the face of severe economic circumstances. The shop will host a closing-down sale before closing on December 31, The Bookseller online new site reported.
“The various lockdowns and the ensuing breakdown of supply chains negatively impacted many independent businesses such as ours,” the site quoted Salwa Gaspard, bookshop owner and director, as saying.
“But as a specialist Arab-world bookseller sourcing our stock from the Middle East and North Africa, we also had to contend with sharp increases in Arabic-language book prices, shipping charges and exchange rates.”
Saqi Books and Dar Al Saqi, its publishing houses, will remain open.
André and Salwa Gaspard, along with their longstanding companion, the late Mai Ghoussoub, launched Al Saqi Books in 1978.
They had moved to London from war-torn Beirut and started the bookshop in Bayswater to serve an unmet demand for English and Arabic publications about the Arab world at the time.
Over the next four decades, the bookshop became a beacon not only for Arab expats in the UK and Europe, but also for Arab visitors.
Akala, Brian Eno, and Damon Albarn were among the celebrities who visited Al Saqi.
The shop took pleasure in an atmosphere of openness, discussion and debate, convivial meetings and public events in both the shop and the Kufa Gallery, a major arts venue in the same Westbourne Grove premises.
Harold Pinter and the late Egyptian novelist Nawal El Saadawi were among those who visited Al Saqi.
Censorship crackdowns, damaged shop windows following the Salman Rushdie scandal and during the 2003 Iraq War, and inventory depletion due to a warehouse bombing and a naval blockade during the 2006 Lebanon War have all been obstacles for the bookshop over the years.
The shop basement was flooded in July 2021, destroying hundreds of volumes. Within 48 hours, a crowdfunding campaign raised almost £15,000 with the help of celebrities such as Mary Beard.
Gaspard told The Bookseller: “We were incredibly moved by the outpouring of support shown to us by our readers and customers after the flash floods. Our customers’ support and friendship over the years has meant the world to me. I have been very proud to be able to bring the best in Arabic writing and intellectual thought to readers eager to explore the Arab world’s rich heritage, and to serve such a warm and generous community.”
While Al Saqi Books will cease operations, its legacy will live on through the independent publishing firms Saqi Books and Dar al Saqi.
Both publishing firms, which were founded in 1983 and 1991 as extensions of the bookshop's activities, will continue to operate as usual, the report stated.