This post is also available in: Spanish
Panama is for readers
When the landmark Librería Argosy shut its doors last year a huge void was left in the Panamanian book store scene. Though the old standby book purveyors never went away–Gran Morrison with enough bi-lingual choices to keep you current and Farmacias Arrocha whose wall of magazines provides hours of light reading–a new crop of book stores has taken hold of the local cultural landscape.
One such place is El Hombre de la Mancha, a bookstore/ cafe franchise with multiple locations spanning the city. Their Multiplaza venue is tucked away from heavy foot traffic, creating a perfect atmosphere for book browsing and enjoying a quiet read in their cafe, comfortably seated with a $3.00 fresh-squeezed juice. A good number of English books can be found amidst the well-stocked Spanish editions, with Panamanian authors represented in their own, small section.
More upbeat is Multiplaza’s Sanborns, the Mexican department store whose one-stop gift shop includes a large selection of periodicals from Reader’s Digest to Ocean Drive and an irresistible section of US trade paperbacks all priced under $10.00. The full-service, Wi-Fi- ready restaurant in the back is a perfect place to enjoy a local paper over a delicious plate of Panamanian cuisine.
Exedra Books has a Barnes and Noble feel and cafe, making it a popular destination. Its cozy atmosphere is certainly inviting. Librería Cultural Panameña, in business for more than 50 years, is the final authority on Panamanian authors. Both of these venues regularly host talks, workshops and book signings. Check their websites for details.
A true gem in the heart of the city is the seldom-visited Corotu Book Store, Smithsonian’s Tropical Research Institute’s (STRI) gift shop on Ancon Hill. Scientifically-inclined picture books and a complete assortment of local field guides can be purchased here. Rare finds like the locally published “A Creole from Bocas del Toro: the story of Carlos Reid” by STRI staff scientist Stanley Heckadon-Moreno is a steal at $15. An outdoor fountain with a bench and small table offers the ideal place to catch a breather and enjoy a packed lunch.
A final, great location for readers is ex-pat hangout New York Bagels where the recently-installed, vibrant book exchange makes it easy to relax for hours. An ample selection of low-brow fiction with authors like Tom Clancy, Janet Evanovich, and Nora Roberts is readily available. During non-peak hours, you’ll have free run of the comfy indoor and outdoor seating. A toasted bagel with cream cheese with an endless cup of Bambito Estate will only set you back $5 and change.
As these venues attest, a cultural boom has accompanied the country’s accelerated development. With luck, these businesses will continue to shape Panama’s reading culture for years to come.