Fall is a perfect time to don a sweatshirt, make hot chocolate, and curl up on the couch for a cozy reading session. In our modern world of e-books, readers can download almost anything within minutes – but it still feels special to visit a bookstore, browse covers, hear recommendations, and finally find a real book that takes us on a new journey that stirs the soul. It’s not always easy to find books in English or other foreign languages in Budapest, but luckily there is Bestsellers, which for 25 years now offers such a wide international book selection that hardly anyone leaves empty-handed.
Bestsellers, an independent bookstore near St. Stephen’s Basilica, celebrates its 25th birthday on September 25th, so they are offering customers a 25% discount off every book on that day, while serving birthday cake and drinks. This homey haven offers books in English, French, German, Russian, Italian, and Spanish, and quite possibly has the broadest selection of foreign-language books in town. Their assortment includes everything from fiction to non-fiction and classics to new releases, along with reference books, guidebooks, young-adult novels, translated Hungarian literature, and kid’s stories, not to mention current magazines and global newspapers. It is carefully curated by a super-friendly staff, who are happy to help customers anytime (and know many regulars by their names and taste in books), and who pack the shelves with the newest releases, as well as classic tomes whose time may have come again. Stepping inside this peaceful shop, it is easy to get lost in time while browsing books, admiring colorful covers, or sitting down for a minute for a quick sneak peek into a new story.
With their motto saying: “Through Books to Knowledge and Dreams”, Bestsellers strives to help everyone find what they are looking for, and so they happily order books from abroad by request, and always work with a positive mindset. As proof of the excellent service here, the staff often orders books that they think some of their regular customers would like, a truly nice gesture that is often missing from Magyar businesses.
The story of Bestsellers dates back to 1992 – in the time before e-books and Amazon.com – when its owner, Tony Lang, was after a book that he simply could not find anywhere in Budapest. This is what gave him the idea of opening his own bookstore that focuses on foreign-language copies on Október 6. Street. Its story started out with a truly funny opening line – the site he chose for the bookshop had been a grocery store, and because of government regulations at the time, the previous business profile of the location had to be maintained, thus the store had to stay in the grocery trade. Therefore, Mr. Lang had to stock certain kinds of foods like canned goods and soda in his shop alongside his books. Although he only did this to obey the law, and all he wanted to keep in store was books, sometimes customers wished to purchase the store’s food products, which he was not entirely happy about since those were really just for “decoration”.
At first Mr. Lang filled his store with books that mirrored his taste – which is basically still true today – so mostly fiction books lined the shelves. However, beginning in 1995, Bestsellers started operating an academic bookstore specializing in the social sciences on the campus of nearby Central European University, which expanded the scope of their selection. Nearly ten years later an opportunity came to physically expand the original shop, making the store about twice as big as before, providing space for an even broader selection to fill the shelves.
Bestsellers boasts a truly colorful circle of customers: young adults, university students, proud grandparents, die-hard bookworms, and several longtime regulars all come to find books to their liking, and the staff is always ready to accommodate all kinds of requests, even if all that the customer remembers is that the book they want was something kinda blue – which did happen before. Furthermore, several well-known figures have visited Bestsellers, such as Anthony Hopkins, Eva Mendes, and the Prime Minister of Indonesia, who spent about an hour browsing books here, and left with a heavy stack of history books. Finally, we were happy to learn that one of the most popular sections at the store is for Hungarian literature translated to other languages, including works by such prominent Magyar writers like Magda Szabó, Imre Kertész, or Sándor Márai, which should be a must-read for everyone living in Budapest.
Bestsellers turns 25 years old on Monday, September 25th, and to celebrate they are offering a 25% discount off the price of all books along with birthday cake and drinks to thank their regular customers and everyone who pops in to this shop for something special to read. All in all, Bestsellers is a truly trustworthy downtown store, and even though buying books here is more expensive than downloading them or ordering them online, it is always nice to support a local business, especially one that has been providing excellent service to customers for 25 long years.