Panama City is not a great town for readers, but the bookstore offerings have gotten somewhat better in recent years. Don’t expect bargains, though—shipping heavy books to Panama is expensive, and that’s reflected in the prices. Both the Gran Morrison department store and the Farmacia Arrocha drugstore chains carry books and magazines. Offerings are hit-or-miss, though occasionally a rare find surfaces. The Gran Morrison on Vía España is particularly promising.
Librería Argosy (Vía Argentina near Vía España, tel. 223-5344, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Sat.), run by a friendly Greek émigré named Gerasimos (Gerry) Kanelopulos, has been a Panama City institution for more than three decades. It’s a small, crowded place. Be sure to dig below the piles—a lot of books are buried under each other. The shop carries a substantial collection of works about Panama or written by Panamanian authors. Note Gerry’s extensive collection of autographed photos. Pride of place belongs to Dame Margot Fonteyn, who spent her twilight years in Panama.
There are several outlets of El Hombre de la Mancha, a local bookstore/café chain, mostly in shopping malls. They typically have a small English-language book selection with a few bestsellers and a lot of bulk discount books, as well as a reasonable selection of Spanish-language books by Panamanian authors.
The branch near the Country Inns and Suites in El Dorado (Central Comercial Camino de Cruces, tel. 360-2063, 10 a.m.–10 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 11 a.m.–8 p.m. Sun.) has the best selection, at least in Spanish, but it’s also the least conveniently located for most tourists. There are branches in the Multiplaza Pacific, Multicentro, and Albrook shopping malls, the domestic airport at Albrook, and the Sheraton Panama Hotel and Convention Center. See www.bookshombredelamancha.com for a current list of all the branches.
Exedra Books (Vía España and Vía Brasil, tel. 264-4252, noon–7 p.m. Mon.–Sat.) is modeled after U.S. chains such as Borders, minus the books. For such a large, attractive store, most of its offerings are odd and very limited. The English-language books in particular seem to consist of by-the-pound leftovers. It does have a decent selection of Spanish-language fiction, though, and it seems to be making a genuine effort to become a real bookstore. It also carries some used books at better prices. Upstairs there’s an Internet café that actually has a café. It’s also a ticket outlet for local concerts and other events. Literary talks, in Spanish, are given on Monday night at 7 p.m.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition