Dubai: Volunteers help flood-hit second-hand book shop after 4 days of waterlogging

When the water could finally be cleared, almost half their stock of 20,000 books had been destroyed

By Harriet Shephard

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Photos: Supplied
Photos: Supplied

Published: Sun 28 Apr 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Sun 28 Apr 2024, 4:30 PM

A week ago, Grace Karim and Somia Anwar had resigned themselves to the fact that Bookends, their beloved second-hand book shop, would never reopen.

Renowned as one of the biggest second-hand book shops in the UAE, the April 16 floods saw the Bookends store at Dubai Silicon Oasis become submerged in almost a metre of water.

It took four days for the water to finally be cleared, and by then, almost half their stock of 20,000 books had been destroyed.

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“For safety reasons, the authorities told us not to enter until the water had been pumped away. So, we just had to watch helplessly, thinking about what we were losing. Around 13,000 of our books are beyond saving and a lot of our shelving and furniture is too,” said Karim.

Located in the basement of the building, the shop’s floor-to ceiling bookshelves and packed book storage rooms were totally at the mercy of the floods. With almost half their books obliterated in one day, the co-founders initially saw the floods as a sign that they should give up and close down.

But, the outpouring of support they received from the local community made them determined to keep going and work to get back on their feet.

Community flood relief

Karim described: “The support we have received has been so incredibly beautiful and heartwarming. We posted a message on social media explaining what had happened and we were immediately inundated with messages from local readers asking what they could do to help."

"We said that people were welcome to come and assist us with sorting the damaged books, and the next day dozens of volunteers just appeared out of nowhere,” she added.

Since then, Bookends has welcomed a group of roughly 30 volunteers every day.

“Some of the volunteers bring along laptops because all the water damaged books need to be removed from our online store. Our remaining books also need to be recorded and reshelved in numerical order, too,” Karim said.

Sorting the drowned books is a difficult and time-consuming task. The work is expected to take at least another week.

Karim said: “Most of the water-logged books are completely beyond saving. Some are growing mold, and the smell is very bad. Even if they ever dried out, they couldn’t be opened any more. But we have managed to save around 100 of the ones that got just a little bit wet. After all, our books are like our babies. We are keeping them even if they aren’t totally perfect in appearance."

“The bottom half of our wooden shelving is also breaking apart. Our volunteers have been helping us to remove them and replace them with metal ones. We lost about 20 shelves and fixing it all is very costly. We can see from the water marks on the walls that the water reached over 80cm," she added.

Encouraging reading in the UAE

Those who donate books to Bookends normally receive store credit in payment. But, since the floods, many readers are donating books and expecting nothing in return.

Launched initially as an online store in 2020, the goal of the business has always been to get more people reading.

Karim said: “I’m from Lebanon and my co-founder is from Pakistan. We both felt that books were too expensive in the UAE and so we decided to create a way of making reading more accessible and affordable. Our prices start from just AED 10, and initially we were focused just on kids’ books, but now we serve so many avid adult readers across the UAE."

“We’ve found that there is a huge appetite for second-hand books here. With the support of our wonderful community, we are determined to come back stronger than ever,” she concluded.

Anyone keen to help with the clean-up of the store or contribute books is invited to get in touch with the team via the Bookendsae Instagram page.


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