The Carolina Bookstore of Cuenca, Ecuador

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February 15th 2014
Published: February 15th 2014
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Our last day in Cuenca was spoiled when I had a run-in with an older man who I assume is the owner of the Carolina bookstore. I had been in the store a couple days before and received a swap credit of 3 US dollars for a large format paperback edition of Stephen King’s Storm of the Century. I had two more, large format paperback books to exchange (Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much Is True and The New Granta Book of Travel) and was looking forward to browsing and selecting something new to read. I handed the books to the young female Ecuadoran staff member who barely acknowledged me or the books. I browsed for a few minutes and then approached her again to ask how much credit I was allowed for the two books, expecting the same 3 US dollars per book that I was allowed on the previous occasion. She told me I was allowed 2 US dollars per book and when I questioned that amount and said that I had received 3 US dollars the previous visit, she pointed at a sign behind me and said ‘Can you read that’ in a smug and dismissive manner. I hadn’t seen or been aware of the sign that said ‘2 dollars on most books’; it did not say ‘all’ books and I attempted to point this out to her. She just repeated the ‘2 dollar’ mantra without looking at me at all. I asked to speak to the American owner. She said he was teaching a class and I decided to wait for him. When the class finished and he came down the stairs I approached him but she pushed past me and started talking very animatedly to him in Spanish, which I could not understand. I waited and after she had said her piece she turned and walked away and the older American man turned to me and asked why I was angry with his staff member and told me that I had upset her and that I wasn’t to speak with her in an angry tone. I was more than a bit shocked and tried to ask about the credit allowed for the books but he was more interested in continuing to criticise me for upsetting his staff. Not once during our increasingly heated conversation did he ever look me in the eye. I pointed out that he had previously allowed me 3 US dollars on a similar sized trade paperback and he begrudgingly agreed to ‘stretch’ the offer to 3 US dollars while assuring his staff member that she was correct to offer me only 2 US dollars while at the same time massaging her on the shoulders that I felt was very unprofessional. Our argument heated up even more and he headed back upstairs muttering under his breath and I took back my two books and stormed out of the store.

On our previous visit we overheard this man complaining about the increasing of prices in Cuenca because of the influx of more westerners, and also the ‘gringo tax’ where an item is more expensive for a westerner than it is for an Ecuadoran. On our first visit, one of the books we purchased was a small Spanish-English dictionary that was priced at 7.50 US Dollars. At the other second hand bookstore about 50 meters away the book was priced at 7 US Dollars. And at the Spanish-language bookstore further up the street the book was priced at 6.50 US Dollars. Also, on all of the books in the store the original prices had been scratched out or written over with black marker. Many of the more-recently published second hand books were priced more than when they were new! The usual guideline for second hand books is to buy/credit 25% of the cover price and sell for 50%. The Carolina bookstore is ripping off its customers both in what he offers for credit (they do not buy the books as far as I know) and in what they sell them for. In conclusion, this bookseller is a hypocrite and treats customers with disdain and contempt. It was the most unpleasant experience I have ever had in a bookstore. I had entered the bookstore with hope of finding something new and exciting to read and departed upset and very angry with both my treatment there and for losing control of myself. As a former independent bookseller myself (in America and in Ireland) for over 35 years, it breaks my heart to have to write this critique of a colleague’s bookstore.


9th June 2014

Similar Experience
We had a similar experience. The young women at the front desk was very rude and unhelpful! She was to busy playing on FaceBook. We too lost out on credits and have decided not to shop in the store again.

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