Arbat to Trade Kitsch for Books

For many years, the Old Arbat has been a tourist trap for expensive souvenirs, but this image may well change come summer as plans are under way to turn the famous pedestrian street into a kind of a "book street." Moscow's Central Administrative District has announced that book kiosks will start popping up in June. According to Sergei Baidakov, the Central Administrative District's prefect, the project of transforming the Arbat into a book street was the brainchild of academic Sigurd Schmidt, a "native" of the street. The idea is thought to fit in well with the historical image of the neighborhood. Indeed the Old Arbat has maintained an albeit artificial old-world feel, especially since 1986, when the street was adorned with distinctive street lanterns.

"I think the idea is a great one," says student Svetlana Lazareva. "The Arbat has a strong literary and cultural past and it's far better to bring out this aspect of the street rather than these tacky souvenirs on display."

Indeed, many great writers, artists and painters lived on the Old Arbat and some period houses have been well preserved. Alexander Pushkin, as well as the 20th Century poet Alexander Blok lived on the street, as did the composer Scriabin.

Before the books become a permanent feature of the Arbat, the consumer market complex will have to develop the designs for the kiosks, which will have to fit in with the general style and appearance of the street.

Baidakov also plans to cut down the number of souvenir stalls operating in the area, stating that the book kiosks will have to be installed "not in addition to but instead of those pseudo-souvenirs which we plan to scrap altogether in the near future" he told the Russian press. The type of literature sold will be books on art, the history of Moscow, antiquarian as well as out-of-print books and will exclude any kind of cheap popular literature. If the project proves popular with Muscovites, the number of kiosks will increase in the autumn. So move over souvenirs, here come the books.

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