Not long ago, the Rua Barão de Tatuí in central São Paulo was a no-go area to many. A particular spot to avoid was a dilapidated newsstand on the corner of Rua Inmaculada Conceição, which was used by drug dealers as a storehouse and meeting place.

Today, rather than illegal substances on sale, it’s books. The gloomy kiosk has been replaced by the Banca Tatuí, a newsstand touting work by more than 160 publishers from Brazil’s independent literary scene. Addicts looking for a quick fix have moved on, while couples and students craving more intellectual highs are moving in.

Mario Mellili, a septuagenarian who has lived on the block since he was nine, is one of the kiosk’s regulars. When we drop by on a sunny morning he warmly greets owner João Varella as he strolls up to the stand. “We needed a shop window of our own as well as for other small publishers,” says Varella, who also runs independent publishing house Lote 42 with his partner and Banca Tatuí co- owner Cecília Arbolave.

The Brazilian-Argentine couple have lived in the Santa Cecília neighbourhood since 2009. When the stand at the corner of their street was put up for sale three years ago, they snapped it up. But less than a week later thieves broke through its ceiling – only to find three reais (less than a euro) in cash.

“They didn’t even take any books, which actually made me feel sadder,” says Varella. So the pair hired architect Mario Figueroa’s firm to give the stand a much-needed facelift, fitting it out with shelves and seating, as well as a reinforced ceiling. The roof is now strong enough to use as a pop-up stage for gigs at book launches, when the Banca – with its fetching wood-panelled interior – becomes a de facto street-party venue.

“I think we’ve built a real a nity with residents,” says Fernanda Custódio, one of the newsstand employees. The kiosk’s popularity has even had a ripple effect: a selection of buzzy cafés and res- taurants have sprung up nearby.

The Banca’s shelves are filled with colourful creations of all shapes and sizes, including comics, novels, children’s picture books and zines. Many of the works were painstakingly produced with specialist techniques including silk-screen printing, analogue typography and woodblock printing. Lote 42 typically works with print runs of 1,000 to 1,500 – a relatively large number in the indie publishing world. “Manual printing requires so much time and you never know what to expect,” says Arbolave. “But there’s an audience which is very interested in collecting these books.”

The couple believes that Banca Tatuí’s success has also demonstrated how art and retail can be used to catalyse urban change. Although he admits it’s not a panacea, Varella believes that establishing a friendly public space has made the community more relaxed because “people care for each other.

“We started believing that public security issues can be resolved without the police. Before, with the drug den, there was always a sensation of danger. People were worried about walking here at night but now it’s peaceful.”

Article published in the Monocle 2018 Forecast magazine. Audio package featured in The Arts Review on Monocle 24 – January 19, 2018.


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