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NEWS | Wednesday, 14 November 2007

New chapter for Valletta’s landmark bookshop

Raphael Vassallo

After 104 years in the Valletta retail business, the Sapienza family is in the process of selling its eponymous bookshop on Republic Street.
“It is now public knowledge, yes,” company director Mark Sapienza said yesterday when asked to confirm rumours of the forthcoming sale of Sapienza Bookshop – one of the best known booksellers’ on the island. “A decision to sell the business has been taken, but so far there’s nothing in black on white.”
Nonetheless, Mark Sapienza confirms that negotiations are ongoing, and that a deal may now be “imminent”.
Apart from enjoying a reputation for quality service – achieved largely on the strength of consistently hiring knowledgeable sales personnel – Sapienza Bookshop also stands at a unique location: bang in the middle of Malta’s foremost commercial centre. Speculation about the property’s real estate value is therefore rife; but neither Mark nor his brother James, who takes care of the “books” side of things, was keen on giving away too many details about the sale.
Whatever the price, the sale will nonetheless mark the end of an era both for the Sapienza family, and also for Valletta itself. Sapienza’s started out life in 1903 as a family-run kiosk on St Marks Street: then a busy area of Malta’s thriving capital city. It was not until 1928 that the business moved to its present location on Kingsway (today’s Republic Street). Originally named after the current generation’s great-grandfather, Paul Sapienza, the shop has re-invented itself sporadically in the past 80 years, settling on its present name only after the family decided to specialise in books in the late 1970s.
Mark Sapienza told MaltaToday that the decision to sell the centenarian family business came about largely as a natural consequence of “running out of generations.” His brother James concurs.
“We would like it to remain a bookshop, naturally,” he said when asked about the future of the site itself. But while the shop itself may well continue selling books, it is unlikely to do so under the same trademark name. The Sapienzas have indicated that they would prefer to retain the brand for themselves, reserving in the process the right for future generations to revive a long-established family tradition.
As to be expected from someone whose entire life has been immersed in literature, James Sapienza proved to be the more philosophical about the imminent move to pastures new.
“It’s always a difficult decision, as we’ve been here since we were kids. But at the same time, it is also an opportunity to do different things. You know how it goes: one chapter closes, another one opens…”


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