Popular Russian bookstore sees its final chapter
Owner evicted, thousands of books thrown out at Gaithersburg shop
Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2006
Thousands of books— torn, tattered, spines broken—were lumped into literary mountains on a Gaithersburg parking lot, men shoveling them into two green, 10-ton Dumpsters.
‘‘I won’t let my children watch,” Stepanov said, pointing to her toddler son, facing the opposite way in the back seat of her car. ‘‘It is horrible. It’s like Hitler.”
A Russian bookstore that has long been a haven for immigrants, researchers, and—some say—even spies and CIA agents during the Cold War, unexpectedly closed its doors last week when the owner was evicted.
Thousands of books, all in Russian and some still in plastic packaging, were taken to the trash transfer station at Shady Grove to be recycled.
Victor Kamkin Inc., one of the largest Russian book distributors in the United States, was nearly six months overdue in rent at the brick building at 220 Girard Street in Olde Towne, the property manager said.
Last week, when the store owner had not moved the books from the site, First Potomac Realty Trust began the eviction process, removing nearly 400,000 of the estimated 600,000 Russian books as customers watched, and tried to salvage some titles, in the bitter cold.
Skip Dawson, executive vice president and chief operating officer of First Potomac Realty Trust called the incident unfortunate, but necessary.
‘‘We did make efforts over a long period of time to work with the store owner,” he said. ‘‘Unfortunately, the remnants had to be moved and we followed the [county] sheriff’s requirements.”
Because of the enormous volume of books, he said, almost 150,000 are still in the store. Dawson said he has had offers by others to buy the books or sell them at reduced prices.
‘‘We want to be sure to make the right move before we go forward on anything,” he said. ‘‘We hope they don’t get thrown out. We hope they can benefit someone.”
Igor Kalageorgi, owner of the more than 50-year-old bookseller, could not be reached for comment.
Contact numbers on the store’s Web site for Gaithersburg and New York have been disconnected.
A person replying from the company’s e-mail wrote to The Gazette that Victor Kamkin Inc. holds books ‘‘in the highest regard,” and that attempts to work with the property manager to have the books moved were unsuccessful. The person did not give his or her name.
The bookstore, which was previously housed in Rockville, came close to meeting a similar fate in 2002 when Kalageorgi fell nearly $200,000 behind in rent.
The store and books were saved when a going out of business sale raised record revenue, and some politicos, including County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, and the Library of Congress, moved to stop the eviction.
Kamkin Books moved to the Gaithersburg site in mid 2002, Dawson said.
The store’s Web site says their books will now be sold exclusively online.
For many in the Russian immigrant community, the closing of the store is a dispirited ending to years of tradition, said some who watched the eviction process Wednesday morning.
The sight of books being destroyed was particularly disheartening to those from Russia, a culture that holds books in high regard, said Gayl Gutman, president of The Friends of Rockville Library, a nonprofit voluntary organization.
‘‘If this was jewelry, it wouldn’t be shoveled into the trash that way,” said Gutman, who is also a member of the Russian book initiative, a group that is pushing to get a 2,000-book collection at the library’s renovation reopening in September.
‘‘That’s how Russians think of their books. They love them, they value them,” she said. ‘‘They think of them as a primary means of being in touch with their world.”
The piles in the store’s back parking lot will soon meet their fate: they’ll be shredded, beaten into a fibrous pulp and then mixed with chemicals and water to create recycled paper.
Those who once visited the store weekly are now planning to frequent another Russian bookseller in Kensington, or buy them online. The transition won’t be easy, they said.
‘‘This is trash?” asked Vladimir Novikovs of Gaithersburg, holding up a Russian children’s pop-up book he salvaged from the rubble.
He and a half dozen others watched the working crew crane more into a Dumpster Wednesday morning.
‘‘This is not trash,” he said.