The Knigogolovka bookstore is growing a center of influence in a society wary of Protestantism.
Editor’s note: News editor Andrew McChesney is currently traveling in Eastern Europe and reporting on Adventist work in the region. For a list of others stories, follow the links at the end of this story.
Seventh-day Adventist books filled the shelves of ordinary bookstores in Serbia’s capital for about six years, so church leaders became concerned when the stores began to reject the books last year.
No store owners would explain why they had changed their minds. Church leaders suspected the behind-the-scenes involvement of the influential Serbian Orthodox Church.
The solution? Open a bookstore.
But Knigogolovka in central Belgrade is not just any bookstore.
Nestled among school supplies such as backpacks, pencils, and notebooks are Serbian-language editions of books such as The Great Controversy by Adventist Church cofounder Ellen G. White and The Lost Art of Thinking by Adventist physician Neil Nedley. The store, which opened in late February, is located near an elementary school and just down the road from one of the largest Orthodox cathedrals in the world, the Church of Saint Sava.
The Knigogolovka bookstore is already growing a center of influence in a society wary of Protestantism, said Djordjija Trajkovski, president of the Adventist Church’s South-East European Union, whose territory includes Serbia and the other countries of the former Yugoslavia.
“When parents enter our bookshop to buy supplies for their children, they become interested in our books,” Trajkovski said as he drove two visiting Adventist journalists to the bookstore on Friday. “They often declare that they have never seen these kinds of books in any other bookstore in town.”
He was echoed by Klea Radovic, a pastor’s wife, who works as a salesperson at the bookstore. She said many customers rush in and out for school supplies, but some linger to look at the books. When they do, they often exclaim with astonishment when they realize that the books aim to improve physical, psychological, and spiritual health, Radovic said.
A Big Sale
But some customers just want to be left alone. Radovic spoke of a man who took a book off the shelf, read through part of it, put it back, and took another one.
“I was thinking that he’s just going to leave and not buy anything, but he bought eight of our books,” she said. “But he wasn’t interested in conversation. He was just, ‘I’m just looking’ and very quiet. But then he took all eight.”
She said The Lost Art of Thinking is the store’s best-selling book, while The Great Controversy is also a hot item and always on sale.
Shelves under the store’s check-out counter were lined with copies of The Great Controversy on Friday.
The book is especially popular because of its cover, which describes how modern-day events such as the United States’ role as a superpower were foreseen by Ellen White more than a century ago, said Dragan Pejovski, director of the Adventist-owned EuroDream publishing house outside Belgrade. He came up with the idea for the bookstore and serves as its manager.
He said the store was already breaking even and he was looking to buy the place once its two-year lease ends. The store’s first-year rent of U.S.$8,750 was nearly covered by a private donation from a church member in Australia, while the publishing house covered the rest from its profits.
“We have good and positive feedback from the people who are buying books there,” Pejovski said.
Visit the Knigogolovka bookstore in central Belgrade, Serbia, with Victor Hulbert of the Trans-European Division.
5 Books Sold a Day
The store sells an average of five books a day, while the most books sold in a day was 10.
Pejovski compared the store’s sales to that of local literature evangelists, mentioning that one couple had called him recently to joyfully announce that they had sold 15 books over the past month.
Pejovski is already drawing up plans to open a second bookstore in Novi Sad, Serbia’s second-largest city situated about 55 miles (90 kilometers) north of Belgrade.
Knigogolovka — whose name is a wordplay on the Serbian words for “book” and “pencil” and can also be read as “Hunting for Books” — is not the only Adventist bookstore to have found success in the church’s Trans-European Division, which Serbia and 21 other countries. In Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen, the Helping Hand store is flourishing with a mix of books, second-hand goods, and a cafe, said Victor Hulbert, communication director for the division.
“It is building bridges and making friendships,” said Hulbert, who visited Belgrade with an Adventist Review journalist this week. “It is also attracting a range of people. Refugees come in because there is good-quality second-hand clothing, and Danes stop by for a drink and a book.”
Helping Hand is so successful that a second store was recently opened in northern Denmark and plans are being laid to open a third in the town of Daugård, where the Adventist-owned Vejlefjordskolen junior college is located.
Church leaders have no plans to add second-hand clothes to the Knigogolovka bookstore in Belgrade, although two second-hand clothing stores were recently opened in Bosnia and they are thriving, Trajkovski said.
He said Knigogolovka will, however, stock a growing number of titles from EuroDream, which produces 25 to 30 titles a year and has released about 150 titles since it opened in 2010. A room on the second floor of the store is to be converted into a hall for book signings and new book presentations. Healthy food products may also be added to the store shelves.
Knigogolovka is not only meeting a need in the community but also in the church, Trajkovski said.
“We have a good variety of books, but we are not very good at advertising them,” he said.
Stories from East European Trip: