Despite its rugged beauty, Uruena, like many villages in the Spanish countryside, has struggled over recent decades as an aging and dwindling population has left it with only about 100 full time residents.

There is no butcher, no baker - both retired in the past few months. The local school has just nine students.

SPAIN has one of Europe's biggest book-publishing markets, feeding a network of about 3,000 independent book stores - double that number, if stationery shops and other places that sell books are counted.

But about 40% of bookstores have less than Euro 90,000 in annual revenue, which amounts to operating a ''subsistence business,'' according to Alvaro Manso, spokesman for CEGAL, an association that represents Spain's independent bookstores.

''The trend is one in which size matters and more of the very small bookstores will disappear,'' as they have in other countries where book sectors have consolidated, Mr. Manso said.

To help smaller businesses compete, Spain's Culture Ministry this month allocated Euro 9 million in subsidies for the book sector to modernize and digitalize.

The attempt to turn Uruena into a literary hub dates back to 2007, when the provincial authorities invested about 3 million euros or about $ 3.3 million, to help restore and convert village buildings into bookstores and to construct an exhibition and conference center. They offered a symbolic rental fee of Euro 10% a month to anyone interested in running a bookstore.

The plan was to keep Uruena alive with book tourism, modeling it after other rural literary hubs across Europe, notably Montmorillion in France and Hay-on-Wye in Britain. Hay has long hosted one of the continent's most famous literary festivals.

The survival of that huge nationwide network of bookstores in Spain, where readership levels are not particularly high, is ''one of the great paradoxes of this country, but I think we're living in kind of a book bubble,'' said Victor Lopez Bachiller, who owns a bookstore in Uruena.

Because the rent is low, Mr. Lopez Bachiller stay afloat financially by selling an array of secondhand books, whether Spanish-language classics, like ''Pedro Paramo'' - after which his store is named - or comics like Tintin.

His shop also displays about 50 models of old typewriters said to have been used by writers such as Jack Kerouac, J.R.R.Tolkien, Karen Blixen and Patricia Highsmith.

Mr. Lopez-Bachiller, 47, is among some 100 residents of the village, most of them retirees.

Tamara Crespo, a journalist and her husband, Fidel Raso, a photographer bought a house in Uruena in 2001 before the effort to turn the area into a literary hub. They also ran a bookstore there now.

''I feel that being here is not just about wanting to have a rent-free bookstore, but also embracing a certain way of life and building up a community,'' said Ms. Crespo, whose store focuses on photojournalism.

One of her few complaints is that other bookstore owners open up sporadically, mainly on weekends when they know that there will be more visitors, even though the investment project stipulates that their shops should open at least four days a week.

A longtime resident, Josquin Diaz, 74, is a folk singer and ethnographer who moved from Valladolid in the 1980s and lives in an old building where he has gathered a vast collection of traditional instruments, books and recordings. His home was turned into Museum by the province three decades ago.

''I'm a realist, and I don't believe in getting too nostalgic,'' Mr. Diaz said about the loss of traditional stores and crafts in villages like Uruena.

''Overall, life is much easier now in the Spanish countryside than 50 years ago, and nobody could ever imagine that books could get sold and help save this village when I arrived here.''

The World Students Society thanks author Raphael Minder.


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