Words Bookstore Cafe: Bahrain’s Charming Intellectual Spot
Reading is a universal pastime. No matter where you are geographically, you are bound to stumble upon a large commercial bookstore, or a friendly hole in the wall that sells carefully selected books. Friends Rana Aljalahma and Eileen Abuhamad managed to create the latter. It is not so much a hole in the wall as it is a delightfully well designed space that houses some of the world’s best books.
Rana is half Bahraini half English and studied Political Science at The American University in Cairo. Eileen Abuhamad is American, but grew up in Bahrain and studied Arts Administration at The University of Texas in Austin. Their passion for books ignited a need to open up their own bookstore, Words.
Tell us about your bookstore…
We are a small neighborhood bookstore and café in Budaiya. We cater to a wide range of customers, mothers coming in after their school run, the person who wants a quiet place to read or work, teenagers wanting to study in the late afternoon, families with children on the weekend.
Why did you choose to open up a bookstore?
The idea came about over a discussion we had one afternoon. We both had a passion for reading and cooking so it only seemed natural to work with what we both loved. We also felt there was a niche to be filled.
How did you start your business?
We started working with consultants on the business plan and design philosophy. We searched months for the perfect space and once it became available, we went ahead with it. Rana had taken a course offered by the American Booksellers Association about opening bookstores so this gave us an insight to the business. In May 2011 we attended the Book Fair in NYC and haven’t looked back since.
How do you manage day-to-day business?
Because there are two of us, we share the workload. We opened in February 2012; we are still working out all the minor details of running this type of a business.
What sort of books do you carry in your store?
We have a wide selection of children’s books, cookbooks, art & design. Because we are small we have carefully selected books for our fiction, non-fiction (biography/business), travel, body/mind/spirit and parenting. We hand pick every title with the intention that any book you choose from our collection will be a gem.
Do you carry any local writers?
We have just started carrying a few titles by local writers. There are surprisingly a lot of local writers in Bahrain and we are keen to promote them as we feel it is important to support what is happening locally, be it in books, other businesses, etc.
We noticed the bookstore has a strong design aesthetic and attention to detail. What inspired the interior design?
The store has large windows and is in a complex that has a contemporary feel. We worked with that idea and made it our own.
How has the public’s response been?
So far we have had fabulous feedback. People are especially pleased with the selection of children’s books and cookbooks. It seems many other people have been searching for a place to find good books, great coffee and delicious food.
Do you feel your customers prefer printed books to the more recent e-readers?
Our customers still love the printed book. Many of the books we carry are children’s books, cookbooks, art books, coffee table books which do not suit the electronic format. Our customers still love the feel of holding a book or looking through a large coffee table book vs. reading or viewing images on an electronic device.
What do you look for in a library or bookstore?
We look for unusual, inspiring titles with beautiful illustrations and photographs. You can find popular books in any airport shop, supermarket, etc. We want to be different.
Do you have any must-reads?
A few of our favorites:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres
Leo the African by Amin Maalouf
The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Here be Dragons Trilogy by Sharon Kay Penman
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
Who are your favorite authors?
Jane Austen, Louis de Bernieres, William Dalrymple, Ken Follet, Malcolm Gladwell, Amin Maalouf, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Naguib Mahfouz, Carolyn Myss, Sharon Kay Penman, Phillip Pulman, Ayn Rand, Vikram Seth, Ekhart Tolle
Authors on your to-read list?
Diana Abu-Jaber, Orhan Pamuk, Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Your café section has gotten great reviews! How does it relate to your bookstore in its design sense?
Simple, light, airy, not overdone. Quality over quantity.
Words Bookstore Café is located at Palm Square, Budaiya Road, Bahrain, Tel +973 17 690790. For more information visit their website www.wordsbookstorecafe.com
– Alya Al-Othman
** This article was first published in Khaleejesque Magazine’s Apr/May/Jun 2012 Issue, ” The Art & Design Issue”