Like many young people in the Arab world, Lana Halabi followed the traditional path to success.
She pursed both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in business marketing and worked in a prominent retail company in the Middle East. There, she gained experience in fashion retail, store management and customer service for seven years until she decided to quit her job in 2015 and open a bookstore.
Today, Lana is the proud co-founder of the Halabi Bookshop in Beirut. In a world that is becoming ever more virtual and fast-paced, the Halabi Bookshop offers residents of Lebanon’s bustling capital a unique place to slow down, talk to each other and immerse themselves in the written word.
Everything about the Halabi Bookshop is inviting: the elegant shop sign that hangs over the entrance, the eye-catching poster of iconic Lebanese singer Fairuz, and the crimson-framed door and windows that prominently showcase a large collection of encyclopedias and books.
The interior of the Halabi Bookshop is just as quaint as the exterior. Warm light illuminates the shop’s seemingly endless bookshelves and comfortable seating areas, creating an intimate space where any bibliophile would want to spend time. The bookshop’s vintage artwork, pictures and decor also add a unique sense of history and character to the venue.
However, the Halabi Bookshop is not without its own history. Before Lana turned it into a bookshop, the space originally housed a grocery store that Lana’s grandfather, Hussein Halabi, also known as Abou Nazmi, opened in 1958. Even back in the day, the Halabi grocery store offered patrons daily newspapers, weekly magazines and periodicals.
Throughout his youth, Abdallah Halabi, Lana’s father, used to help his father run the grocery store. Although the grocery store was forced to close for short periods of time during the Lebanese Civil War in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the resilient family grocery always opened its doors again to customers and resumed business.
In the early 1990s, Abdallah took over the family grocery store and gradually added books to their offerings, as he loved collecting them as a hobby. Over the next decade, Abdallah’s collection grew steadily until the grocery store-turned bookshop started to overflow with books, magazines, newspapers, and other collectibles. Eventually, the overflow made the space cluttered and inaccessible.
“Parents play a great role in engaging their children in reading,” Lana Halabi
At the end of 2014, Lana decided to help her father revive the Halabi Bookshop. She participated in local book markets and street festivals and gave the shop an online presence. Then, in April 2016, Lana and her father began an 8-month process of renovating the bookshop. With the help of her mother and brothers, Lana was able to open the doors of the Halabi Bookshop to the public again in December 2016.
Since then, the bookshop has worked tirelessly to meet the needs of booklovers in Beirut. Not only does the Halabi Bookshop offer their patrons a wide selection of new local, regional and international books in Arabic, English and French, it also carries vintage and used books. But, more importantly, the Halabi Bookshop organizes countless activities to promote reading, discussion and critical thinking among people of all ages in Lebanon.
Over the years, Lana has organized many cultural activities at the bookshop, including author meet-and-greets, poetry readings, book signings, tea parties, and regular reading sessions for children. In May 2017, she also launched a book club that has hosted several book discussions in Beirut and other major areas in Lebanon. The Halabi Bookshop also regularly participates in local and international book fairs across Lebanon.
When asked if she believed that the culture of reading was dead in the Arab world, Lana said that there are “a sufficient number of readers in Lebanon” and “that social media has greatly helped booklovers gather into communities.” The purchasing power of individuals in Lebanon also has a great impact on the reading culture in the country, according to Lana.
Even though some Lebanese people have exposure to books, many do not have the luxury of sacrificing their time or their money to read. From her experience as the proprietor of the Halabi Bookshop, Lana has learned that there is one stakeholder that is crucial to promoting a culture of reading in Lebanon’s youth in the future; “Parents play a great role in engaging their children in reading,” she explained.
However, young Lebanese people’s love of reading should not be underestimated. “Youth are also driven to books,” noted Lana. Many of the young people who frequent the Halabi Bookshop are interested in young adult books, classics, business books and self-help books in English and Arabic. “Many [young people] read Arabic poetry as well,” she added.
Since 2016, Lana has witnessed a revival of the reading culture in Beirut. Not only has the city seen an increase in the number of clubs and groups dedicated to reading, it has also seen an increase in the number of monthly storytelling events, open mic poetry reading communities, and other inspiring cultural initiatives in Beirut.
For many people, the Halabi Bookshop is more than just a bookshop. It has also become a living museum, where visitors, young and old, can learn about the history of Beirut and the area where the bookshop is located. Through old pictures and stories, Lana’s father takes visitors on a riveting journey through Lebanon’s history, teaching them everything about its “golden age” before the Civil War, and about the tragedy of the war itself.
Lana hopes that the Halabi Bookshop will continue to offer bookworms in Beirut a comfortable place to grow and explore their imagination for generations to come. By creating a unique space where anyone can read and meet like-minded people, her ultimate goal is to spread the love of reading and promote a sustainable culture of creative and critical thinking in Lebanese society, especially amongst its youth.