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Sheikh Zayed, Cairo, Egypt.
Kelma Araby: Specialist Bookshop at Arkan Mall in 6th of October City
The fact there are just a handful of reliable, well-stocked bookshops in Cairo betrays Egypt rich literary history. While the likes of Diwan have done a fantastic job in filling the void, the internet is full of spoilers long before the biggest fiction titles have arrive on these shores and good luck if you're looking for a more specialist, obscure book.
In 6th of October City, Arkan Mall's first bookshop comes in the shape of Kelma Araby.
Located on the ground floor, the shop is right next to the escalators and stocks philosophy, politics, and Arabic literature books, as well as a few children's books.
Decorated with hardwood floors and wooden racks, the venue is quite small. A little too small perhaps; books are haphazardly piled in random places on the floor. While in theory this gives that very specific charmingly informal vibe, it's a little too chaotic.
Most of the shelves were unlabeled and upon closer inspection we understood why; there was no organization scheme whatsoever. Not even an alphabetical order.
Placed in the centre of the store was a wooden counter with various Arabic novels, including a series of Arabic romantic novels by the Algerian writer Ahlam Mustaghanimi such as 'Fawda Al Hawas', 'Aabr Sereer', and 'Zaker Al Gasad', all costing 89LE.
The only two shelves with labels were Literature and Politics, which also seemed unarranged. They included books such as 'Al Marhoom' by Hassan Kamal (55LE), 'Torab Al Mass' by Ahmed Morad (45LE) and a series of political books by Galal Amin ranging up to (89LE).
The right side of the store was dedicated to children's books, crammed with colouring books, school notebooks and a few English-language fiction titles ranging from between 20LE and 50LE, including 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' (89LE) suitable, 'Heroes of Olympus' (109LE) and a few copies of bed time stories, including 'Finding Neverland', 'Finding Nemo' and 'Thumbalina' (25LE- 39LE).
Overall, despite it being useful for only very specific types of books, Kelma Araby is likely to be the successful Hail Mary last attempt for bookworms looking for something specific.
Stationary shops are in no short supply in Egypt. The average type of stationary can be found on almost every other street corner. But once we start talking about quality, a wide selection and, sometimes, obscure little knick knacks, suddenly, there’s far fewer choices of stationeries to go to.
Possibly the most famous of all the stationary shops is Samir & Aly. Situated on Sherif St. in Downtown Cairo, this particular branch has two large spacious floors plus two separate quarters located at either side of Alwan.
With a much bigger selection than any other stationary shop, Samir & Aly look to meet all the needs from school and office supplies to an extensive art section with different types of paint, canvases, sketchbooks, paper, and even a selection of easel’s to choose from.
Sketchbooks are available in a range of sizes—A4, A3 and A5. The qualyty of the paper feels very rich. There is a whole wall dedicated to drawing pastels with one small box of 12 costing 53,55LE. A set of 18 Gouache paints costs 46LE plus the bottle of fixative to brush over your finished painting costs 14.95LE. Should you run out of one particular colour, Samir & Aly offer single 200ml tubes of acrylic paint at 23,90LE. Other sizes are available as well.
In the window there is a nice range of stylish stationary gifts including beautiful wooden pen holders for your desk; paper holders and organisers made from the same mahogany wood and even a large selection of lamps. One of the cheaper ones costs 50,89LE, whereas a more stylish and mobile lamp costs 159LE.
The prices here at Samir & Aly are a little steep, but that is reflected in the qualyty of the brands that they carry, including Faber Castell, Uni Ball, Parker Fabriano and Office.
The first branch of Samir & Aly was opened in 1969 by Samir El Maayergy and Aly Shatla, it quickly grew to four branches by the early 1980’s and thanks to their savvy business minds has became a staple of stationary shopping in Cairo.