Prior to taking over the bookstore, Eric Haegelsteen spent twenty-five years of his life in administering services as an auditor in Kongo, Cameroon, Ivory coast and Senegal
Named after Eighteenth century Philosopher Voltaire and his novel Candide, a bookstore known today as Librairie Candide was bestowed at Place Georges Brugmann in Brussels. It had been running for over forty years. It was owned by a couple. Beatrice who was the former wife and second owner had maintained the space over a period of time. It was founded in 2010 by Eric Haegelsteen who took over and renewed it in collaboration with architect studio Lhous & Lhous. Haegelsteenwas born and brought up in a family consisting of military officials and engineers. Starting from boarding school to pursuing business administration from Brussels ULB University, he had an inclination towards culture. A topic that was beginning to flourish. Prior to taking over Librairie Candide, he had spent twenty-five years of his life in administering services as an auditor in Kongo, Cameroon, Ivory coast and Senegal. When he returned to Brussels, he took an apartment near the location of a bookstore. «People were deserting Brussels for American and English culture; it was ten years ago. Had it been left abandoned any longer, it would not be recognizable. Each lane and street had two cafes, when I returned, it took me time to wrap my head around the changes that had taken place. The bookstore had books piled up with no demonstration, regulation and presentations. When I had the opportunity to work with architects, I gave them my brief which consisted of three points: light, circulation, and capacity. Candide in French means candle. The light from it is what we incorporated as character-traits into our structure which has tones of yellow. We were budget conscious and reused existing materials as a plan for the commercial and environmental agenda».
A section of the store consists of literature and novels which covers thirty percent of the collection. It includes newspapers, magazines, cook-books, a children’s section, human science, philosophy and psychology. The bookstore is a destination for genres. The team goes through each book present in their store selecting and evaluating it before providing it with space. This selection is done with their employees who have been with them for over a certain number of years. It includes age groups and perspectives. «This process is boring, but it is an activity fundamental to our functionality. Determination, consistency, curiosity and the will to serve and expand has kept them going. We are a team that is able to acknowledge the talent. Pushing talent forward, we have learnt of authors who were awarded for their literary works. 150 – 400 copies sold by the time they were awarded».
In an atmosphere struck by the overflow of information and content through digital expansions and circulation Librairie Candide has maintained its authenticity. «This helps us to discover talent, it increases our pace to work and makes us productive. In over ten years I have a handful of books which are in the store that I do not tire of recommending. The books have stories and a world in which people want to escape. Screens can serve quickly but not completely. People arrive with diversities, traveling to come to our store, we picture their efforts and make it our responsibility to serve and advise them. There is a generation that continues to visit the shop, who have noticed the changes that have taken place. Customers demand nourishment in terms of quality which we discover by the orders that they make through us».
Librairie Candide has been associated with Non-Profit Organizations for the elderly, refugees, orphans and the enhancement of the condition for prisoners in the jail of Brussels. Haegelsteen who donates by supplying books to the places, with no intentions of sale. The books that do not sell within two months get returned with ten percent on its total return cost. Librairie Candide was awarded with the Commerce Design Brussels Award in 2010-2011 «our work has been to encourage talent and empower people for what they do. We have sections of albums and photo-books that illustrate presentations of people. We do not make money with this, what we wish for is to show people our event and organizational skills, which remains to be connected to the books».
In 2020 the shop was closed for two months, but once it opened, it received foot falls, their turnover of this year matched that of last year. «I contemplate selling the store but what would stay is the team I have and the people I am working with and have worked with. Amelia Carpenter, who works at the store and is an artist, drew me a panther before leaving her job at the store. I requested her to convert the design to the wrapping paper for books that we give to our customers. When we discover books, we contact the author and invite them for a signing to meet our community and exhibit their work. An artist from Brussels that I happened to meet at the store intrigued me enough to request him if I could take prints of a page of his book and use it as wrapping paper». The team consists of 85% to 90% of female workers. The events, exhibitions, presentations and window display are organized through them.IMAGE GALLERY
Place Georges Brugmann 2