Bookstore battle reaches a climax

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The last of Oslo’s radical and independent book stores faces an uncertain future, after it received an eviction notice from its state-controlled landlord. The eviction has set off great public debate in the Norwegian capital, and raised interesting issues in a situation that’s full of paradox.

The Tronsmo book store is widely considered a cultural institution in Oslo, but it now faces an uncertain future. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The Tronsmo book store is widely considered a cultural institution in Oslo, but it now faces an uncertain future. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Nearly 11,000 people have joined a social media campaign to save Tronsmo Bokhandel from the wrecker’s ball later this year. After more than 40 years at its current downtown location at Tullinløkka, just behind the University of Oslo’s law school and adjacent to two museums, the book store has lost its lease and must move by August 1. The store is Oslo’s version of the beat generation’s City Lights in San Francisco, and its fate has pitted two groups against each other that normally are on the same side.

That’s because the book store is being evicted to make room for what the University of Oslo calls a desperately needed expansion of its law school. The aging office building that houses Tronsmo is owned by the state-controlled property firm Entra, which plans to tear it down to construct a new building that would be leased to the university. Tronsmo and all other tenants of the building need to find new quarters.

Tronsmo has enjoyed favourable, rent-controlled lease rates, though, and its manager and owners claim the iconic bookstore can’t afford to pay market rent in the downtown area. They say they may need to close.

The prospect has set off protests from all the thousands who want Entra to call off plans to tear it down. That’s unlikely, since Entra has won permission to move forward with the project that also will result in a much more energy-efficient building to house expansion of the university’s law school.

‘Cultural institution’
The Tronsmo saga is full of paradox, with the university playing a key role. The University of Oslo’s rector, Ole Petter Ottersen, has himself called Tronsmo “a cultural institution” that should be preserved. He told newspaper Dagsavisen that he has “a strong desire” to find a solution that will keep Tronsmo open, but he won’t back down from the prospect of being able to move into brand new quarters at Tronsmo’s current location.

“At present we have no alternative to the new building at Tullinløkka,” Ottersen told Dagsavisen. The law school faculty is currently spread over eight locations in Oslo, he said, and he’s keen to consolidate them in the new building across a park from the historic and newly renovated buildings where the law school is based. The university needs the space where Tronsmo is now based.

Entra reportedly has offered Tronsmo alternative space in one of its other buildings at Tøyen, not far from the Munch Museum on Oslo’s east side. That raises another paradox: Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that Tronsmo’s leadership has rejected the Tøyen location as “not central enough,” even though the left-wing circles that support Tronsmo were also largely those who rallied to keep the Munch Museum at its Tøyen location, because of the need for cultural institutions on the east side and because it’s easily reached by bus and metro.

In yet another paradox pointed out by DN commentator Kjetil Wiedswang, Entra’s new building for the university will be much more energy- and emissions-friendly than the current building that dates from the 1960s. Tronsmo’s supporters nonetheless want to retain the old one.

Seeking subsidy
DN reported that Tronsmo’s biggest shareholders, who have a combined personal fortune of NOK 33 million, instead want Entra to give it NOK 20 million for a rental fund that would help cover new market lease rates at a site of Tronsmo’s choice downtown. That, however, would set an expensive precedent for Entra, and likely spur demands for financial aid from other tenants facing eviction.

Another option would be for Entra to offer space in the new law school building to Tronsmo, but it wouldn’t be available for several years and may be a bit too fancy for Tronsmo, in a brand new building filled with budding lawyers.

Wiedswang also suggested crowdfunding, noting that if all of the thousands who have joined Tronsmo’s Facebook support group would actually support Tronsmo with financial donations, its lease affordability problem would likely be solved. In another parodox, however, it’s unlikely the vocal supporters will put their money where their mouth is. Nor do Tronsmo’s wealthy owners seem keen to invest more of their own money in the venture.

Tronsmo’s leaders now have four months to decide the store’s fate. Newspaper Dagsavisen editorialized this week that Entra bears “special cultural responsibility” to help secure “ongoing operations and a central location” for Tronsmo. Tronsmo’s leaders say they have had “several offers and approaches from folks offering us new space,” but that “we still haven’t found anything that’s suitable.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund