AD Secrets: Thrift Books

Tucked in a superblock of the Zayani neighborhood is the only used bookstore in Abu Dhabi. For the international thrifters and bookworms of the city, ...

Tucked in a superblock of the Zayani neighborhood is the only used bookstore in Abu Dhabi. For the international thrifters and bookworms of the city, the unique shop provides an afternoon’s excitement of diving into piles of novels, autobiographies, cookbooks, children’s fiction and historical novels to explore the next world from a coffee table.
It is a wonder how the array of customers finds Thrift Books in the first place. Neighboring a fruit store and a small neighborhood mosque, it is completely hidden from the main streets of Abu Dhabi. With little online presence apart from a mention on a blog or two, the shop’s existence is primarily passed along by word of mouth.
That, however, doesn’t seem to have inhibited Thrift Books’ popularity in the city.
“We have people from all over,” said Victoria Pinto, a small-framed woman from Goa, India, who serves as the shop’s resident bookkeeper. “There are customers from Tanzania, South Africa, [the] U.K., Lebanon, Jordan, India, Egypt, Syria, [the] U.S., Saudi Arabia and Yemen.”
As we spoke, a customer called from Dubai, asking for a book by Paulo Coelho.
Pinto glowed when she spoke of the bookstore where she has worked for two and a half years. Her regular customers happily greeted her before feasting on the large collection of disorganized classics and New York Times best sellers.
By Nicole López Del Carril/The Gazelle
Often the customers ask Pinto for guidance through the stacks of books lining either side of Thrift Books. She has a mental catalogue of every book in the store. If a book is requested that isn’t in the store, she adds the title to a list of requests in case the books are later donated.
Pinto says she doesn’t have a favorite book because she has a slight problem. “I never finish the book[s],” she explained laughing. “I read the book and I recommend the book [that] I am reading to the customer, then they take the book and I can’t finish.”
Her stack of current literature on the front desk includes “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” and “Accidentally Engaged." By her chair hangs a poster of Mother Teresa, which she found one day inside a book that was donated.
“All people, Muslim and Christian, they like Mother Teresa,” said Pinto.
Like a Mother Teresa of books, Pinto accepts all kinds, no matter what condition they are in.
“I don’t want to throw [them] away,” she said, eyes smiling. “All books have value, no matter if they are old or new.” When books are slightly worn, she reduces the price to a few dirhams, but she is adamant that all books have a story to tell.
“If you have any stress, the books make you happy,” Pinto explained. Students with their noses permanently pressed between the pages of psychology and economics textbooks may welcome a good novel, beautifully indented on either side from the hands of its previous owner.
Thrift Books works the lines between an exchange and a garage sale. Customers bring in their unwanted books and exchange them for the latest novels. The books can also be purchased and range from five to 40 AED, depending on the state of the book and its popularity.
In the back of the store, stacks of Lonely Planet guides, cookbooks and old copies of National Geographic nurture the traveling spirits of Abu Dhabi.
Pinto said that the shop, which is no bigger than two-by-six meters, holds many unexplored worlds.
“You know what the world is [through books],” she explains. “Lots of things are in books you never know before.”
How to get there: Thrift Books is a mere seven-dirham cab ride from Sama. Tell the taxi driver to take you to the intersection of Hamdan and Al Salam Street. The bookshop is in the northwest superblock of the intersection, behind Sun & Sand Sports. Once you are on foot, pass Sun & Sand Sports and turn right before Blue Jeans Garments. If you look straight ahead, there is a store at the end called City Rose, between two buildings. Walk toward City Rose and when you reach City Rose, turn left. On the right there is a small neighborhood mosque. If you continue walking straight, directly in front of the mosque is Thrift Books in a pink-tiled building.
Alternatively, look up the exact coordinates on Google Maps or an iPhone: 24.496582, 54.371189.
Nicole López Del Carril is a staff writer. Email her at 
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