Santa Fe New Mexican

Crisp Covers

Steps from the Santa Fe Plaza, tourists and locals who stumble upon Allá find virtually every nook and cranny of the Laughlin Building’s second-story bookshop space crammed with titles. The country’s largest Spanish language brick-andmortar bookseller purveys some 80,000 works. Allá is the domain of owner Jim Dunlap, a slender, spry 85-year-old raconteur who originally hails from Washington, D.C. In 1963 he moved to Mexico City to study anthropology and work as a journalist. Dunlap dove into Latin American culture, ran in Mexico City’s intellectual circles, and became fluent in español before moving to Santa Fe a dozen years later. He opened Allá in 1980 with an inventory of 1,000 titles, many of them Latin American history books. “The impetus of the bookstore was spreading Mexican Indigenous culture,” Dunlap explains. “But the main reason for opening it, as a writer and researcher myself, is I believe you always want to get to the originally written language source, if possible.” Dunlap’s wife, Barbara Sommer, a retired Gettysburg College professor who holds a doctorate in Latin American history, co-runs the shop. She says customers are primarily academics and Spanish teachers seeking hard-to-find titles as well as those looking to read a classic like Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo in the original Spanish. The shop also carries a small selection of books in English. After decades of Allá lacking an Internet presence, Sommer now handles the shop’s online sales through bookselling marketplace “What’s been interesting over the past couple years is to track exactly what sells most,” says Sommer. “And it’s often material that’s super-esoteric or highly academic. For example, we recently sold a scientific two-volume set about the fungi and mushrooms of Costa Rica.” Offering customers an intimate link to the material, over the years the shop has hosted in-store appearances by everyone from Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano and Mexican photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo to acclaimed New Mexico authors Rudolfo Anaya and Jim Sagel. Dunlap and Sommer recall Santa Fe’s vibrant literary culture of the 1980s and ’90s as the scene’s modern-day golden age. And it’s something that inspires them to continue selling books in the downtown Santa Fe world of ever-rising rents. “Today I see the bookstore’s role as trying to keep that older spirit alive,” Sommer says. ALLÁ I 102 W. San Francisco St., Suite 20 I 505-988-5416