K r a k ó w
Rynek Główny 23
 
 
    the story of bookshop

Cathedral to the Book, 2000-2010
Author's: Katarzyna Siwiec, Mieczysław Czuma
Translated from the polish by Julita Mazurek
Proofreading Steve Mackay Burgess

Kraków still has places where books and their readers have a chance to meet - like old friends. Even in an era overwhelmingly dominated by the internet and aggressive tabloids, the city still has a great number of new and second-hand bookshops, as well as inhabitants who not only love books but also have
a professional interest in them. This is because Kraków is a special city - it was here that Polish printing and, in turn, bookselling was born.
     In 1473, in Kraków, Kasper Straube of Bavaria set up the first printing house in Poland and in 1513 Florian Ungler's printing press produced the first book ever to be printed entirely in the Polish language: 'Raj duszny' (Paradise of the Soul) by Biernat of Lublin. It should come as no surprise that in Kraków books are held in high esteem.
     Kraków is also the home of one of Europe's oldest universities and provides fertile ground to discuss books and issues to do with their sale and promotion,
as well as a chance to meet those who are involved in the literary profession.
     One of Kraków's bookshops is particularly worthy of attention. It is located
in Rynek Główny (the Main Market Square) at number 23 and nowadays operates under the name of 'Matras' - a well known country-wide bookselling chain. This location, in the very heart of Kraków and close to the historic Town Hall Tower and the Cloth Hall, has been involved with book trade since 1610. It was in this year that books started to be sold at a house here, at that time called 'Kamienica Kromerowska' - the House of the Kromer family.
     In fact, the Matras bookshop located at number 23 Main Market Square is actually the oldest bookshop in the whole of Europe. And it wasn't just any foreign visitor who called this place 'Cathedral to the book' but Carlos Fuentes, one of the greatest writers of our time. On the 14th of May 2002, he began his entry in the Matras visitors book with these very words: 'A Matras, Catedral del libro...'

A Bookshop Worthy of the 21st Century

A new chapter in the story of this historic bookshop began on the 16th of May 1998 when it came under the ownership of Matras, Poland's largest chain of booksellers. Initially trading under the name 'Skład Księgarski Matras', the company recently issued shares and now operates as a public company 'Matras Spółka Akcyjna'. If the poet's wish that 'books find their way into even the humblest of dwellings' is to be fulfilled, it is undoubtedly Matras that is working towards just that. The company is active in both the retail and wholesale book trade, and through strong performance has managed to achieve extraordinary results in record-breaking time, given that its first bookshops were only opened
in 1995.
     In Kraków, the company has three outlets - in the 'Galeria Krakowska' and 'Plaza' shopping centres and of course in the Kromerowska House. Each of these bookshops is fully up to 21st century standards.
     It goes without saying that the fabric of Europe's oldest bookshop has had to be modernised to keep up with the times. The building's façade was restored in July 2002 and the interior was refurbished three years later. As a result - lo and behold! - the bookshop at 23 Main Market Square is now not only respectfully old and distinctly historic but also truly European in character and countenance. The bookshop was given a new floor, more appropriate lighting, air-conditioning,
a new checkout desk, as well as another chip 'n' pin terminal. Although some new bookcases were installed, it is the old, solid, alder-wood bookcases - dating from the second World War and exquisite in their inlaid-wood workmanship - that create the unique atmosphere of this place, beloved by the citizens of Kraków who are known for their love of history and tradition.
     At Matras, you will find books covering virtually every area of interest; literature, books for children and young people, comic books, travel books, school textbooks, self-help books, books in English, language-learning books, art and photo albums and books on history, philosophy, economics, law, medicine and information technology. All these subject areas are marked and arranged very clearly so that even a new customer will easily find the book they are looking for. Matras also has three computer terminals providing access to its database. And - last but not least! - its extremely competent staff, always ready to help.
     The bookshop itself has about 30,000 titles in-stock and any book in its 75,000-item catalogue may be ordered. An interesting example of what's available, Matras has 'Sumo', an album of Helmut Newton's photography, measuring 50x70cm and weighing 30kg. The book is reputed to be the largest and most expensive book published in the twentieth century. Every copy is sold with a special bespoke stand and several customers have already bought it!

The Autograph - a Meeting with Literature

The Matras located in the Kromerowska House is not only a bookshop but also a 'literary salon' buzzing with never-ending discussions about books. In the years between the two world wars, the bookshop served this purpose quite literally, because its owner at that time, the company 'Gebethner i Wolff', granted use of its premises for meetings of a group of avid bibliophiles. These book enthusiasts even established an Order of Bibliophile Knights, with a chapter called the White Raven Medal Committee ('white raven' being a Polish idiom for a very rare book). Even though the company no longer exists, Kraków's older generations still refer to the bookshop as Gebethner i Wolff's.

Side 1  2  3   The story of a Kraków Bookshop, 1610-2000 

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