Indian shipping magnate buys Vienna’s historic bookshop

December 25th, 2008 - 1:42 pm ICT by IANS  

Vienna, Dec 25 (IANS) “We Are Opening Again!” says a cheerful sign that was put up in Vienna’s historic bookshop that faced bankruptcy, after it was bought by an Indian shipping magnate. Vikram Naik, 53, is the talk of the town here for having rescued Vienna’s British Bookshop out of bankruptcy.

The decades-old bookshop, located in the heart of the city’s affluent first district, filed for bankruptcy last November. It affected 173 creditors.

Three days later the insolvency lawyer announced that Naik’s Wizdoms Libraries had won the bid to buy the bookshop.

According to reports in the local media, the shop owed creditors 734,900 euro while its assets totalled 84,500 euro.

Georg Prachner Buchhandels, the bookstore’s parent company, was facing financial woes. Declining sales and mushrooming competition were blamed for the bankruptcy.

“This is not about money. I am not looking for profit here. It is not a shop that I have bought but a cultural heritage,” the Mumbai-based shipping magnate Naik told IANS at the now empty premises.

A grand opening of the shop is planned early next year.

Passers-by smile again to see signs plastered around the naked glass windows of the shop that read: “We Are Opening Again!”

“The re-opening of the British Bookshop (BBS) is good news indeed. The shop has been an important resource not only for the general reader of English literature but especially for teachers of English, to whom it has offered a wealth of teaching materials managed by a knowledgeable staff.

“Readers will be excited to see what new directions the BBS will be taking after the new launch,” says Julia Novak, founder director of Vienna’s English Literature Festival.

The shop, also known as the world of millions of books, has always been run by a privately owned company specialising in English language books.

It began as a reading room at the British Embassy after World War II and moved to its present location in 1974.

Naik, a former Indian Navy officer, says that he will not interfere with the original character of the shop that till recently was considered Vienna’s most comprehensive boutique specialising in books in the English language and literature.

The shop is spread out in a large space on the ground floor.

The seven staff members are mostly from Britain and Commonwealth countries and display a genuine love for English language and culture.

Forty three-year-old Michael Lock, managing director, started work 16 years ago in the basement, packing and pricing books. London-born Lock is delighted that the bookshop has been rescued.

“I look forward to working with Naik and the new values and philosophy that he promises to bring into the business,” said Lock.

For Naik, it has been a diverse but delightful journey from Mumbai to Vienna.

Lieutenant commander Naik, then 36, took voluntary retirement from the navy to pursue his love for deep sea diving. He founded the Ocean Diving Centre in Mumbai and in 2000 bought the hull of a 1978 ship to design a barge according to international standards for underwater engineering.

He now owns over a dozen ships.

After lucrative business contracts in Dubai, Egypt and Norway, Naik felt it was time to help those who were less fortunate.

A few years ago he founded two trusts to provide education to children in India’s countryside.

Under the banner of Wizdoms Libraries, a team of professional educationists helped him to identify 25 areas in rural Gujarat where modular libraries will be opened in the new year.

He wants to cover more areas and his dream is to get permission from the Indian government to take over libraries around the country that are run down.

The Vienna bookshop seems to be an ideal platform for Naik to launch a knowledge-based global movement.

The plan is that eventually the cluster of thousands of libraries in rural India will be electronically connected through a multimedia central data centre in Mumbai with bookshops and libraries worldwide.

The broadband facilities will be provided by Naik’s newly formed telecommunication company, Ocean Netcom.

Naik feels it is destiny that brought him to Vienna. He came to the city barely two weeks ago to attend a book fair in connection with the Wizdoms Libraries project. He overheard people talking about the bad time the British Bookshop faced.

Without further thought, Naik hired a taxi and drove down to the shop. A lone staff member stared at the ceiling surrounded by vacant shelves. He was asked to wait for the manager.

“I loved the aura of the place situated on the corner of two streets. I was so determined to get the property and be part of the history of this institution,” recalls Naik.

After a long wait, Naik was stepping out of the door to return home when Lock walked in.

Within a few hours, a meeting with the lawyer was arranged. Naik spent the weekend writing his proposal. He postponed his trip back to Mumbai by a few days and the rest, as they say, is history.

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