Scandal Engulfs Dom Knigi
Published: September 5, 2012 (Issue # 1725)
KRISTINA FATINA / SPT
The Singer building is currently rented by St. Petersburgsky Dom Knigi LLC.
The city’s best known bookstore, Dom Knigi, has found itself mired in scandal after a group of those working at St. Petersburgsky Dom Knigi limited liability company sent an open letter to City Governor Georgy Poltavchenko on Aug. 29, in which they expressed concern over the future of the historic Singer building in which the bookstore is housed.
“As you may know, the building at 28 Nevsky Prospekt is one of the city’s landmarks, and today the city’s leading bookstore is being forced out,” reads the letter, which has been published by a number of local media outlets.
The situation described in the letter reads like a war of clones. The company behind the letter is accusing a competitor company that has an almost identical name — Trade Firm St. Petersburg Dom Knigi open joint-stock company — of plotting to take over the store.
Founded in 1919, Dom Knigi was the first bookstore in Soviet Russia. Some of the country’s most prominent writers, including Mikhail Zoshchenko and Samuil Marshak, once worked as salesmen there.
Since the Bolshevik Revolution, the building has always belonged to the city government. In 1998 the private company St. Petersburg Real Estate Agency signed a deal to rent it for 49 years — the maximum term allowed by federal legislation. Since then, bookseller Dom Knigi has sublet its home from the agency.
The building was constructed between 1902 and 1904 as the head office of the German-owned Singer Sewing Machine Co. in Russia.
In 2004, the building was closed for renovation, with the bookstore’s main branch moving to 62 Nevsky Prospekt. Upon completion of the restoration, the store continued operating at both addresses.
At present, the three floors of the famous Singer building occupied by the bookstore are rented from the city by the St. Petersburg Real Estate Agency that renovated the building. St. Petersburgsky Dom Knigi LLC is operating there. At the same time, City Hall owns the Trade Firm St. Petersburg Dom Knigi OJSC, which is currently bankrupt, and has closed 11 bookstores around St. Petersburg. After the agency renovated the building, City Hall’s company was not able to pay the high rent.
City Hall nurtures plans to revive its book-selling agent, and the idea is to return the state company to the Singer building.
Alexander Lobkov, head of City Hall’s Media Relations Committee, told reporters this week that, while the circumstances of the bankruptcy are being investigated, City Hall has already contacted the St. Petersburg Real Estate Agency about renting out at least 4,000 square meters in the Singer building.
“The bankrupt company has already discredited itself,” reads the letter. “We are calling for an open and unbiased discussion on the matter. Perhaps an independent commission should be created that would decide which company should have the right to sell books in the Singer building. The commission should include not only officials, but members of the city’s intellectual and cultural elite.”
“At the same time, we must remind you of the sad fate of other famous city bookstores, including the Military Book House at 20 Nevsky Prospekt that was forced out of its building, despite the fact that it had been rated no. 7 on the list of endangered landmarks in St. Petersburg,” the letter said. “The bookstore has been replaced by a sushi restaurant.”
Poltavchenko has not yet made a statement on the conflict.