Digmara Lopez (L) and Yunielsi Fandino (R) read a book to their son at their bookshop in Havana, Cuba, Sept. 29, 2018. Eager to take advantage of new Cuban laws encouraging limited private enterprise, Digmara Lopez and her husband Yunielsi Fandino invested thousands of dollars to convert part of their small home in the heart of Old Havana into a bar.
by Raul Menchaca
HAVANA, Sept. 30 (Xinhua) -- Eager to take advantage of new Cuban laws encouraging limited private enterprise, Digmara Lopez and her husband Yunielsi Fandino invested thousands of dollars to convert part of their small home in the heart of Old Havana into a bar.
Construction work neared completion in mid-2017 and the couple looked forward to welcoming their first clients, when the government placed a temporary freeze on their bar permit as officials tweaked the regulations of the fledgling program.
Today, customers regularly pop into their home, but the bar features books, antiques and knickknacks instead of bottles of rum and other liquors.
"We invested some 14,000 dollars in the remodeling to install the bar and when everything was almost ready, the plans were frozen," recalled Fandino.
"That led me to look for alternatives and I came up with the idea -- I had three boxes of books -- of setting up this business to sell them," Fandino said.
With all of their savings poured into the remodeling, Fandino, a sculptor, put his carpentry skills to work, dismantling a shoe rack they had in their bedroom and turning it into additional display shelves for books.
Friends donated their books as well as other objects, such as old coins, stamps, vinyl records and vintage posters, and the bookshop or antique store was opened at the beginning of the year.
Each day, numerous tourists and Cubans drop in to browse.
"It's complicated because sometimes we're cooking and the customers arrive and you have to stop to attend to them, or we're eating and the same thing happens. But business has been good so far and we've done well," said Lopez.
Fandino is admittedly surprised at the traffic the shop has generated, especially since Cuban television featured their small business in a segment.
Cuban authorities recently announced the program will resume again in December, but with new regulations that limit entrepreneurs to a single activity, so business owners with two licenses will have to give one up.
How that will work out for the couple's future Kubacalle Bar remains to be seen, since the innovative concept is a fusion of a bar and a bookstore.
"We want to run a literary bar, Cuba's first," said Fandino, who has grown fond of the book-selling business and the international clientele it attracts.
They hope their permit will allow them to sell both books and drinks. But if it doesn't, they have already proven capable of dealing with adversity by adapting to any situation.
In the meantime, Fandino, who won the Grand Prize at the Iberoarte International Handicrafts Fair in 2007, is engaged in making a 2.85-meter-tall sculpture of Saint Christopher, the patron saint of Havana.
"The idea is to make a Saint Christopher carrying Jesus, as a child, on his shoulders, and my son Keyvan serves as the model," he said.
When complete, the bronze sculpture will be Fandino's gift to the city, as Havana celebrates its 500th anniversary in 2019.