By Millicent Accardi
The motto “Find the book of your life at Livraria Letras Lavadas” comes true in a charmingly renovated building aptly located on Largo da Matriz, in the heart of historical Ponta Delgada, São Miguel island.
Managed by Patrícia Carreiro, the bookstore is currently owned by Ernesto Rezendes, and his two sons, Bruna Resendes and Milton Resendes.
Originally opened in July of 2019, and run by a team of five women, Livraria Letras Lavadas is celebrating its 3rd anniversary with an agenda of literary events.
The bookstore has caught the eye of readers by offering a broad range of choices such as children’s and educational books, poetry, history, art and culture, volcanology and other natural sciences, religion, genealogy, gastronomy, health, sports, gastronomy, travel and tourism.
The story begins with Publiçor, the largest publisher in the Azores, founded in 1974 by J. Moura Lda. In 1980, Publiçor began publishing a series of Tourist Guides to the Azores, in four different languages. By 2009, Publiçor had partnered with the graphic design company, forming the Nova Gráfica Group. In 2011, Letras Lavadas (the press) was born as a smaller imprint, publishing one of the most popular travel series in Portuguese, The Azores / Azores collection (nine volumes, one for each island), a second imprint N9na Poesia, was added, specializing in poetry by Azorean authors, particularly from the Atlantic Ocean, such as Madeira, Azores, Cape Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe. Thus, Letras Lavadas eventually became both a publisher and a charming bookstore.
Aiming to “expand Azoreanity around the world” the bookstore is the focus for a recent interview I had with Patrícia Carreiro, its manager and journalist in her own right. We discussed summer reading, the bookstore business (especially during the challenges of Covid), and how Letras Lavadas promotes the language and culture of Portugal all around the world.
Q: What do you think makes your bookstore special?
A: Because it embraces Azorean literature enthusiastically and genuinely. Our motto is to feature the Azores, whether here or abroad, as our editor, Ernesto Rezendes, usually says, and it seems to me that we have done this with the skill of someone who knows how to reach the hearts of readers.
Q: How did you originally get into the book selling business?
A: I have always liked books and writing, having even had five published titles of my own writing. My relationship with Letras Lavadas bookstore came when Mr. Ernesto Rezendes invited me to run the bookstore, an offer I could not refuse. Here, I feel at home.
Q: What made you want to get into bookselling?
A: First came the publisher, of the same name, which was based on the online site. However, it made perfect sense to have a space where the entire Letras Lavadas catalog was available and that was what also motivated the opening of a bookstore.
Q: What is the hardest thing about managing a bookstore?
A: A lot of flexibility is required in the bookstore business, as readers’ tastes can be capricious, and the selection of titles we offer has to be chosen very meticulously.
I say this because we receive more offers from publishers (wanting us to carry their books), whether nationally or internationally, but not everything pleases our readers. The choice of what books to stock in the store can be difficult, but as booksellers we know what our customers want, and which titles are important to have available.
Q: What is the best thing about being a bookseller?
A: It’s getting to know authors, all different from each other, either being introduced to them through publishers or through our clients (readers). Not infrequently, we receive from customer author or book recommendations that we were unaware of and that make our space richer and more diverse. This aspect is very interesting, because every day we learn new things from the people who visit our bookstore.
Q: Do you have a variety of genres, or do you specialize?
A: In this bookstore, we naturally highlight Azorean-themed books, since we come from the region, but there are many other themes that we offer to our readers, from romance, fiction, poetry, children’s, health and well-being, practical life, personal development and spiritual, among many others. What matters to us is to serve the interests of those who come to us insofar as each reader is unique.
Q: You’ve had many lovely literary events, what’s been a favorite?
A: All our events have a special flavor, because they bring together different people, with different tastes, and this brings us cultural and popular wisdom.
However, book presentations are the most relevant, as they allow us to highlight what we are doing and to get to know other publishers and authors. Every book launch is always different and challenging.
Q: Are there any books you wish would sell better? A little-known book that you feel is under-rated?
A: There are many books that deserve to be highlighted and that have less public acceptance, because the books are older or because the cover is not as eye-catching.
In these cases, as booksellers, we try to know as much as possible about the titles that are in our store to better advise our customers. However, it is difficult to name some examples of this situation.
Q: What is your favorite reading genre? Have a treasure book?
A: I like to read a little bit of everything, from Children’s to Young Adult books, to books dealing with personal and spiritual development. What seems really important is that the book touches me and makes me want to spread the word about the book to people I know.
If I can influence one person to read one book per semester, I am very happy. I wouldn’t say I have a favorite book, but I treasure a few authors (that I can’t stop reading): like, Pedro Almeida Maia, Victoria Hislop, for example. However, it’s been a long time since I really had a favorite author!
Q: There are many Portuguese in the US, looking where to buy books in Portuguese and also bilingual books. Do you ship to other countries?
A: Interested parties can purchase our books through our website www.letraslavadas.pt, we ship all over the world, with the respective transport costs abroad, we do not charge shipping in Portugal.
Q: If you could invite any author to a book signing at your store, who would you choose?
A: Fernando Pessoa or Florbela Espanca, but they are no longer with us.
Q: What do you do to reach potential readers/customers?
A: Letras Lavadas has an active presence online, and our traffic increased after the pandemic. Through this presence we have already reached many new clients and this helps us to, in our dedication, telling the stories of and highlighting the Azores.
Q: What books are you reading right now?
A: “Deus, Pátria, Família” by Hugo Gonçalves and Revista Grotta|5.
Q: What music does your store play?
A: We have jazz and classical as well as local music, groups like Bela Aurora, Rafael Carvalho, Raquel Dutra, among others. We chose this type of music because we want to give our bookstore a homey and welcoming atmosphere, which – from what customers tell us – we succeed in doing.
Q: In addition to books, you also offer regional products such as honey, jams and wine, making Letras Lavadas also a meeting place. Do you have plans to expand by offering coffee or food like larger bookstores do these days?
A: At the moment it’s not something that’s being considered, but you never know.
Q: What is the strangest thing a customer has asked for?
A: Strange, I wouldn’t say, but it’s interesting when customers fall in love with our special storefronts, structured by Mr. Ernesto Rezendes, and want to buy what is displayed there, as recently happened with Espírito Santo window display; many customers wanted to buy the crown and the flags. It is very beautiful to see how enthusiastic our customers are for Letras Lavadas.
Q: What is the best compliment a customer has given you? Or the nicest thing a customer has said?
A: For us, the most important compliment is seeing happiness in the customer’s eyes when they talk to us. It is a sign that they feel at home in our bookstore, and that they recognize the friendliness of our service.
Q: Can you tell PAJ readers a little more about your bookstore (its history and location)?
A: This space where we find ourselves, Largo da Matriz, is an icon of our city, it has always been and continues to be a prime spot in Ponta Delgada, in addition to what is historically a very rich space capable of seducing anyone to stop by.
To give you an idea, the sea used to reach the back of our store, information that often surprises our customers. To get to know this location better, I suggest reading the book Largo Sul da Matriz, by Ferreira de Almeida, published by Letras Lavadas.
Q: How did you manage during Covid?
A: Like everyone else, we had to adapt during the period when the bookstore was closed. We continued to take orders from customers and would mail the books or deliver them to the customers’ home. Our biggest challenge was to keep in touch with customers, through online means, so that they knew we would always be available to help them. It’s just that reading provides indispensable comfort to readers, particularly during a pandemic and, in that sense, we worked very hard to always be present for our customers. And I think we were.
Q: What are your suggestions for summer reading?
A: I recommend a new book by Azorean author Pedro Almeida Maia, A Escrava Açoriana, which I just finished reading, Ilha América, also by Almeida Maia, Until Violence Separates us, by Malvina Sousa, and E assim me fiz ilha by Amélia Meireles, as another recommended book.
Q: Is it important for a bookseller to get involved in the community?
A: It is very important, yes, because if we are known to our community of readers, the path is much more interesting.
We gain friends, as well as customers, and we need each other very much.
Q: What book would you like everyone to read?
A: Inquieta, by Susana Amaro Velho, a book on mental health, which I read recently, and which seemed to me to be a treatise on the importance of preserving ourselves as human beings, physically and mentally.
Q: Do you have a favorite author?
A: I used to, but nowadays I read many authors. I care more about the subject of the book than who writes it, to be honest with you.
Q: Do you have special events in 2022 and 2023?
A: I would like to encourage our readers to travel to the Azores. Our culture here is very dynamic and exciting, so if you are interested in books, I recommend that you follow our webpage to keep up with the activities and readings at the bookstore.
A: The success of our events is relative, because even if we have a small audience, we are always interested in reach everyone. However, of course, there are events that have a greater impact, as was the case of “Cais dos Poetas,” a poetry event, which filled our bookstore with Portuguese authors. The diversity that gathered here was impressive.
The presentation of the book Calypso was very interesting, as it was the first to take place on the patio outside our bookstore.
Now, fortunately, we no longer have traffic in front of the bookstore and people can walk past with and linger safely. For this reason, we are now able to hold events outside the store, attracting interested audiences and making this area of our city more dynamic.
At the Calypso event we brought together Azorean and Madeiran authors, which revealed our intention to create synergies between the many different regions of Portugal.
Q: What are some things that Portuguese and Luso Americans can do to create more community and build bridges between the Azores and the US?
A: Read each other, which already happens, and thus creating a sharing of opinions and information. Through literature, the world and the people around us are more well-known. This is also why I read, to get to know literally those who are not close to me.
Q: What is the best lesson you learned from running a bookstore?
A: That I am nothing or do nothing without the team members who share their workdays with me and share a passion for books.
Millicent Borges Accardi, a Portuguese-American writer, is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Through Grainy Landscape (2021) and Only More So (Salmon Poetry, Ireland). Her awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Fulbright, CantoMundo, Creative Capacity, the California Arts Council, Foundation for Contemporary Arts (Covid grant). The Corporation of Yaddo, Fundação Luso-Americana (Portugal), and the Barbara Deming Foundation, “Money for Women.” She curates the popular Kale Soup for the Soul reading series.