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Ten Thousand Feet of Bliss

a treasure for the traveler..a big assortment of travel guides
a treasure for the traveler..a big assortment of travel guidesMichael Sherer

For a bibliophile, that is. In a day of book stores that vanish, even the larger chain outlets, it’s nice to see a large ‘clean and well-lighted place’ that thrives and that’s exactly what makes the store called Sophos special. Where does this miracle exist, bucking the tides and the trend?

You can judge this by the cover
You can judge this by the coverMichael Sherer

Exactly where you’d least expect it: downtown Guatemala City, in a small upscale mall called Fontabella. The City is divided into zones, much like postal or zip codes in the US, with Zone One being the site of the Presidential palace and other historical buildings. Sophos is located in Zone Ten, the Zona Viva as they say,where the intercontinental hotels and better restaurants are and the book store is a perfect compliment.

What began as a mother’s dream 15 years ago still lives, bigger and better than ever. Philippe Hunziker, now 41 and running things full time, explained that at age 50, his mother who loved to read, decided that opening a book store would be a good thing. A year or so later she came to the belated conclusion that she didn’t have time to read. Would one of her three sons take over? Philippe, dark-eyed and energetic, then in his mid-twenties, raised his hand and it’s been like a one man bob-sled ride ever since.

Guatemala has a history of being literate and cultured, if only among the upper classes. The small country, the size of Tennessee, has a Pulitzer winner and a long list of famed poets, so it’s not surprising that books are still revered here. Sophos continues this tradition, with over ten thousand feet of space and some 25000 books in stock, more or less. Philippe is good at numbers and the total hovers around that figure, he said. There are children’s sections and those for ‘young adults’ and he’s careful to make that distinction. The travel section is larger than any I’ve ever seen and there is a separate room for books only about Guatemala.

In every corner is a computer terminal for searches and it’s not surprising that most of the books are in Spanish but there’s also a French section and a larger assortment in English. The embassy crowds are frequent shoppers and one can find the latest best seller, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and the two sequels in either Spanish or English.

The latest innovation is the creation of ten specific and different book clubs, limited to fifteen members and lasting only a year. To join one buys a book a month, at a discount and they meet monthly to discuss their particular field of interest. There are up to eight different book presentations by local authors every week, as well as workshops for such crafts as creative writing.

Guatemala is fortunate to have what may well be the largest bookstore in Central America, and also the best. For those who might be collectors of arcane publications, there is a rack of small crossword puzzles, printed with covers by famous artists. There are ten such with the Thomas Kinkade brand, now deceased for over a year. Philippe laughed when I suggested that these might be worth more now.

If you find yourself in Guatemala City, perhaps on a rainy day, Sophos is the place to go. And if you see the travel section, on the right wall as you enter, there’s a red-covered book called ‘Our Man in Antigua.’ Buy one or two: Philippe doesn’t need the money but I do (I wrote it).

Sophos! the biggest and the best book store you’ll see in many a year, anywhere, anymore, if only in Central America.

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