St Petersburg has a prominent literary history and bears associations with Russian literary giants such as Pushkin, Gogol, and Dostoyevsky. It makes sense, then, that the city also is bursting at the seams with both hip and traditional bookstores. After spending a semester here as a literature major, here are some of my favourites!
1. Дом Книги
Nevsky Prospect, 28
This landmark building, located on Nevsky Prospect across from the Kazan Cathedral, has a unique history. In 1902 the building was built by the Singer Sewing Machine Company who hired an architect, Pavel Syuzor, to construct a skyscraper. At the time, however, there were laws that restricted buildings not be higher than the Winter Palace, which was 23.5 meters. Syuzor ingeniously worked around these restrictions by constructing a glass dome on the top of the building.
In 1919 the building became the headquarters of Petrograd State Publishing House. After that the building became Дом Книги – the bookstore as it is known today.
Currently, Дом Книги, who’s name means “House of Books,” has one of the largest selections of books in St Petersburg, as well as offering a large variety of books in English, German, and French. The store also has a selection of intricate Russian souvenirs that you can purchase for your loved ones at home.
Liteiny Avenue, 57
This unique bookshop is blooming with life as the color scheme is completely natural with olive green bookshelves that almost blend in with the large plants that grow alongside them.
The name means “Subscription Edition” and refers to magazines and journals – such as those which used to publish literary criticism as well as instalments of first-edition novels by some of history’s greatest authors.
This bookstore first opened as a family-run business under the NEP in 1926. Ever since then, the shop has been selling a wide variety of small publishers, children’s books, publications on design and art, contemporary non-fiction, as well as classical and modern fiction. Along with books the shop offers a large selection of unique notebooks, icons, and other Russian themed souvenirs. After you finish shopping you can drink a fresh cup of coffee and relax in the shop’s small café.
Hours: Monday to Sunday from 10:00 to 22:00
Nevsky Prospect. 66
The House of Writers holds one of the oldest bookstores in St Petersburg. The bookshop was established in 1934 on the initiative of Maxim Gorkey and Sergei Kirov at the First Congress of Soviet Writers.
Throughout history, the bookstore has been both a literary, and cultural hub, in St Petersburg where many famous writers presented new books, and held creative meetings and poetry readings. Over the years, the store has been visited by the likes of Olga Bergholz, Fyodor Abramov, Evgeny Vinokurov, and Vadim Shefner.
Today, because of its historical significance, the city has an ordinance that the property cannot be renamed or redeveloped. Due to its historical status, the owners of the shop do not pay rent which makes the books significantly cheaper here than in other bookstores.
4. Порядок Слов
Fontanka River Embankment, 15
This is an independent bookstore that focuses mainly on intellectual literature. The name translates to “Word Order” and, like in English, refers to being grammatically but also logically correct. The bookstore has a unique feel as you must navigate around large piles of books that are stacked on top of each other. In particular the store sells books on cinema and theater, philology, philosophy, and sociology, as well as memoirs and journals. There is also a small section dedicated to poetry and children’s books.
The bookstore sets itself apart from others by hosting weekly meetings that include a film club, literary discussions, lectures, seminars, and book talks with authors.
5. Книги и кофе
Gagarinskaya St, 20
The Books and Coffee bookstore was established in 2008 by Alexander Zhitinsky on Vasilyevsky Island. A prose writer himself, sharing and spreading literature had always been important to him. The bookstore he established is at once a coffee shop, bookstore, concert hall, and intellectual space – providing not only books but also room for a literary community.
After the death of Zhinitnsky in 2012 the bookstore was on the verge of closure, but the store managed to survive by moving to Gagarinskaya Street. At this new location there was more foot traffic which led to an increase in sales. Today, Books and Coffee is a centre of literary life in St Petersburg and is considered by many a literary institution in itself. It is known for its good, signature coffee, its wide selection of books, and for being an “open cultural ground.”
6. Все Свободны
Nekrasovka Street, 23
The name of this bookstore is interesting – as it translates directly to “Everyone is Free.” The phrase, which can refer to personal freedom, is also used after a class by the teacher to let everyone know that class is over – in the context of “everyone may leave.” Thus, the name carries both the ideas of freedom and academic study.
The interior of this bookstore reminds me of the beautifully chaotic independent used bookstores in North America. I had to search through the book shelves to find the books I was interested in, which had been stuffed to hold as many books possible. The inside of the shop’s fireplace is even used as a shelf as it has books stacked within it.
The shop prioritizes the selling of books on philosophy, politics, art, sociology, cultural studies, and other academic non-fiction. The store also holds a small selection of classic novels, children’s literature, and contemporary fiction.
Liteyniy Avenue, 57
Akademkniga (a compound Russian word meaning “Academic Book”) is full of second-hand and very inexpensive Soviet editions of books on a variety of topics as well as many non-fiction reference books. Also, if you are looking for a particular copy of a hard-to-find old novel, you may find it here as they offer an expansive collection of out-of-print books.
Obvodniy Channel Embankment, 60
This is one of St. Petersburg’s only bookshops that focuses solely on selling comic books. The shop sells comic books in both Russian and English so it can appeal to tourists and locals alike. Every comic book is hand selected by the owners and features American companies like Marvel and DC, as well as comic books written by Image, Vertigo, and IDW. Although the industry isn’t as big in Russia, there are locally produced Russian comics as well – you’ll find them here too.
- Along with comic books, the shop also features memorabilia, action figures, souvenirs, and vinyl records. The shop’s name, “28th,” is also a bit arcane geek-knowledge – chosen apparently because it “sounds like an old Soviet shop” but also because it is the second of Euclid’s perfect numbers (numbers whose divisors can be added to obtain the number). The shop will also give a number of other reasonings – from the fact that the universe is apparently 28 light years wide to the fact that there are 28 convex polyhyrda in geometry…
Address: Obvodniy Channel Embankment, 60
Hours: Monday to Sunday from 12:00 to 20:00
Utiltsa Marata, 10
This bookstore was launched by Britain – a company that first appeared in Russia shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the establishment of a market economy, in 1995. It made a name for itself as the leading supplier of foreign language books in Russia. It specializes mostly in educational and classic literature from well-known publishing houses such as: Cambridge University Press, Pearson, Macmillan, National Geographic, Hueber, Cornelsen, Hachette, Edinumen, and more. In March 2000, the company launched its own bookstore, Bookbridge, in St Petersburg.
While the company and bookstore is mostly known as a resource for foreign language students and teachers, it also has an extensive selection of fiction, classical Russian literature, as well as modern Russian literature translated into foreign languages.
The above entries written by Lucy Harnish
Nevsky Prospekt, 20
Not a library as the name implies, Biblioteka’s tagline is “Food and the City.” Located in the heart of St. Petersburg, it’s practically a city within a city itself. Part restaurant, part coffeehouse, part bookstore, Biblioteka occupies three distinct floors. It’s also a space for holding cooking master classes, small-scale art and photography exhibits, and films.
Visually stunning even from the outside, with its glass doors and ultra-modern bright red signage, Biblioteka jumps out at you on an already crowded Nevsky. Walking in, the first thing you’ll see is a tantalizing walk-in glass display case of cakes and pastries reaching to the ceiling. Bakers and pastry artists are constantly walking in and out of the display case, getting up and down on ladders to shelve pies, housemade candies, parfaits, and more. You’ll almost forget the first floor is the restaurant, and the café is one floor up. The floor space seems to go on forever, exhibiting how massive a project Biblioteka is
For main courses, Biblioteka is skimpy on the traditional Russian offerings. What you will find, though, are reasonably priced entrees like spare ribs, fish and chips, gourmet burgers, and even Belgian waffles with ice cream. Upstairs on the second floor, you can get a pot of tea or an espresso drink for surprisingly cheaper than many other competing cafes, especially for Nevsky. Up two stories high, the café is a relaxing place to read, write, or study with an incredible view of the main street below.
One more flight up, you’ll find a great selection of books and magazines for sale. Texts on food, cooking, baking, and art fill the shelves. Each month Biblioteka also includes a special section of books on a theme, such as modern art. The third floor is also used for special events, concerts, DJ sets, films and lectures.
And for the more linguistically advanced, you can check out a master class on cooking or baking, or join in on a discussion over a film screening. If you want to learn more, check the project’s webpage.
Entry 11 written by Kristen Torres