In a series of interviews conducted by ABC’s Maria Minaya, we’re going to introduce you to (almost) everyone who works at The American Book Centers in Amsterdam and The Hague.
Books form an integral part of our lives not only because they’re our bread and butter, but because our passion for them came first. Our mission is to pass them on. By reading these interviews you’ll discover the faces behind your favorite sections and get a glimpse of who we are.
Meet Avo, ABC’s owner co-owner
Where were you born?
I was born in Jerusalem, Palestine on the 7th of October in 1945. Nowadays when you say Jerusalem everyone associates it with Israel. In 1945 there was no Israel. The whole area was under British mandate until the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. Before that it was Palestine, it was called Palestine so that’s why I insist on saying Jerusalem, Palestine.
What was your favorite food as a kid and what did you hate?
I guess falafel. I loved falafel. It was easy and you don’t have to make it yourself. You could buy it on every street corner. In Amman in the 1950s while walking home from the movies, because in those days we did not have a car and everything was done on foot, we would have falafel. It was a few kilometers from the movie theater to our house. We would pass the falafel vendor, buy fresh falafel and bring them home and eat them with salad. I loved that. I enjoyed it. I can still smell the falafel of those precious moments of my youth.
I ate everything my mother cooked, but I did not like cauliflower. I could eat it fried, but not boiled. My mother would sometimes boil it and put it in a salad and I didn’t like that. I’d have to say I didn’t like boiled cauliflower.
Were you read to as a child?
No, actually not. I started reading on my own at a very early age. My grandmother remembered and would tell this story: as a child when ever I found a piece of paper on the street I would pick it up and try to read it. She was fond of telling that story.
I was not really read to, but I remember the first time my father brought me a comic book (in Arabic, my mother tongue). I must have been about seven years old. I loved that thing and I read it from beginning to end many times. After that I started borrowing books from the local library, then from the American library and then I became a member of the British Council library.
Did you have books in your house while growing up?
Yes, in fact my father read and bought many books. Some people around us thought it was a waste because there was not much money. I’m talking about the early 1950s. But still my father loved and bought books. My father bought Tolstoy’s War and Peace and I thought to myself, ‘Look at that book. Such a huge book with very small letters.’ And he was reading it. I found that moment a little strange. I considered it a hardship although I like books. I admired my father more and more after that. My mother also read a lot, but always in Arabic. My father also read in English. My mother read very quickly even with all the daily activities of housework and shopping and cooking. And when she read she was absorbed in a book, she was completely gone.
Quick free associations:
Paperbacks: Love them.
Sale: Lots of books.
Magazines: Philatelic magazines.
Piano: Lynn (Lynn is Avo’s wife and ABC’s co-owner)
Price gun: ABC.
Cash Register: Fun.
Discount Card: Happy customers.
“I’m looking for a book…”: Glad to hear it.
What is your connection to books and the written word now?
I like to read books. These days I read less non-fiction and more fiction. At this point in my life I read for fun. I enjoy reading fiction so that’s what I read. I like to write too. I write articles on philately and on stamp collecting. This is my major hobby at the moment. I’ve collected stamps for many, many years and I do it very seriously. I don’t just buy and collect stamps, I study them and publish articles in special philatelic magazines mainly in the States, England and here in Holland. So, I still read, I still write. I still enjoy them both.
What is your role at the ABC?
I started at ABC as a co-owner when Lynn and I bought the stores in 1983. When I started out I knew nothing about selling books, so I set this goal for myself to do everything no one else wanted to do. I did everything from carrying boxes to helping customers behind the cash register and taking care of the stores as a whole. As director I also took care of personnel and finances.
After my heart attack in 1996 I had to take it easy. So slowly but surely I had to pull back. Now I have nothing to do with the daily running of the business. I leave that to Lynn, the ABC staff and our children, Paul and Nadine. You could say I take care of the store from a distance.
I’m always talking with Lynn about what’s happening but mainly about the big picture like, the rebuilding, the new store, finances, bookkeeping, and strategy for the future. I now drive to our store in The Hague once a week and I like that because I get to see the people who work there and how they’re doing. I also like to be in the store when major events take place like the R.E.M happening. I like the energy. It’s very, very special.
What is the best part of your job?
The best part of the job is not being at the job. In other words I enjoy my freedom and seeing my kids, Paul and Nadine, involved in the store. I enjoy seeing them grow and develop in the store. It must sound strange that the best part of my job is not being at the job, but watching the development of the store in general and the development of my family in the store.
How would you describe your customer service, i.e., how do you do your job in terms of: cars (Ferrari or Fiat?), pastries (Hema or Holtkamp?), or shoes (Puma or Prada)?
Pass. Not applicable.
How long have you worked at ABC?
Active involvement 13 years plus 12 less active years.
Who is your favorite author? Or what are you reading now?
I just finished Paul Levine’s Kill All the Lawyers. I’ve started reading The Appeal by John Grisham. One of my favorite authors is Lawrence Sanders. He writes thrillers, but with comedy. I like to read funny things.
What is the opposite of bookselling?
What do you think people should know about ABC?
Very often they think it’s a chain store and an American company. So first, The American Book Center is not part of a chain: it’s an independent company. Second, it’s a family, not an American company.