Embassy rescues Russian books from store

Landlord, who evicted store’s owner, may donate other titles to nonprofits

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

The Russian Embassy is saving thousands of books from a Russian bookshop in Gaithersburg that unexpectedly closed last month when the owner was evicted.

Russian diplomats, who read about the closing in the newspaper, are digging through the remaining 350,000 volumes in the store and are planning to add many of them to the embassy’s library by next week, said Yevgeniy Khorishko, a spokesman.

‘‘We will definitely use the books for our people,” Khorishko said. ‘‘They aren’t just junk.”

Hundreds of thousands of the Girard Street store’s books were chucked into the back parking lot, shoveled into Dumpsters and taken for recycling last month when the owner of Kamkin Books, who was six months overdue on rent, was evicted.

The property manager, First Potomac Realty Trust, said the ‘‘unfortunate” incident was necessary to comply with the eviction process when the owner did not remove the items.

The landlord intends to donate the remaining books to a ‘‘new home,” and is fielding several other offers from nonprofit organizations, said Skip Dawson, executive vice president and chief operating officer of First Potomac Realty Trust.

‘‘We’re trying to make sure they get in the right hands,” Dawson said.

Last week representatives from the Library of Congress, the nation’s largest institution of books, pored over the store’s supply, but the library did not need any of the titles, said Charles Stanhope, a spokesman.

The bookstore, which was previously housed in Rockville, came close to meeting a similar fate in 2002 when the owner fell $200,000 behind in rent.

At that time, the Library of Congress took 50,000 volumes from the store for its own collection, and donated several thousand to universities that were building up their Russian sections, Stanhope said.

Dawson is looking to donate any remaining titles that the embassy does not take to several nonprofit organizations, including a Hurricane Katrina fund, he said.

About half of the remaining books are written in English.

Victor Kamkin Books, which operated in the county for five decades, had long been a haven for immigrants, researchers and — some say — even spies and CIA agents during the Cold War.

Khorishko said the closing is significant.

Before the Internet became available in the area, many used the store as a way to remember or celebrate Russian culture.

‘‘At that point, it was the only direct link to the motherland,” he said.

Victor Kamkin Inc., one of the largest distributors of Russian books in the nation, has posted a note on its Web site that says customers may no longer buy from its online store, either.