carolina book store 2 - special issue

Cuenca Expats Magazine, Special Issue
Photos: Carolina Bookstore

Have you ever pretended to go treasure hunting when you were a child? How about visiting mysterious far-off places? Now your wishes can be fulfilled . . . well, in your imagination anyway. Welcome to Carolina Bookstore, located at Hermano Miguel 4-46 and Calle Larga. Here you may well find hidden treasures amongst the many bookshelves throughout the large premises. Wish to just sit and read? You can do that as well on their very comfortable seating area at the front of the shop, and there is free Wi-Fi if you need to use your iPad or laptop.

When you enter Carolina Bookstore you may be greeted by either Martin Doherty’s big smile, the beautiful Diana Karina Patiño, or owner Jim Robinson himself. The store has an inventory of approximately 10,000 books and growing. Of those, approximately 7,000 are searchable online. Carolina Bookstore is warmly decorated with art and a welcoming painting of Falkor, the good-luck dragon from The NeverEnding Story, adorning a back wall adjacent to a stairway.

While there is a large selection of popular and prize-winning fiction and non-fiction in English, what makes the Carolina Bookstore unique is that it offers books, both in English and Spanish, on what makes Ecuador, Ecuador. As a business, their organizational goal is to provide information and entertainment to a broad spectrum of clientele. Under that overarching goal, one of their primary objectives is to provide useful information to expats who are considering or who have decided to make Cuenca, or any part of Ecuador, their home. Education and informing decisions are central to the Carolina business model and their target audiences are both expats and Ecuadorians. Their primary income is through the sale of used books. However, in the future they plan to utilize other media such as special-interest maps and in-person classes to publicize and inform a wider audience about the cultural and natural values that are within Ecuador, as well as the ongoing debate regarding its natural resources.

Carolina Book Store Special Issue
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Now returned to its original location where it began in 2005, the Carolina Bookstore is a place where you can buy, exchange or sell used books. Most books in their inventory sell for between five and fifteen dollars. For people wanting to sell their books, they’ll normally pay one dollar cash or two dollars in-store credit for a non-Carolina book depending, of course, on condition, salability, etc. They will, however, make exceptions to the one-dollar/two-dollar cash/credit rate, especially if the book is on Ecuador, its culture, history, natural resources, or politics, and/or is authored by an Ecuadorian or another well-known South American. In addition, books previously purchased at the Carolina Bookstore can be exchanged for 50% of their original purchase price toward the next purchase.

Mr. Robinson has a background as a geologist, investor and explorer with a tremendous smile and quick wit. When I asked how someone with his extensive background and interests got involved with a bookstore, I received two answers. The first was that the previous owners made him an offer that he couldn’t refuse, and for the second he answered, “I got tired of saying ‘I’m retired.’” I think many of us can relate to that question. When he purchased Carolina, he was able to return it to its present location, which was an unexpected stroke of luck. According to Jim, “When people think Carolina Bookstore, they think: I know that place on Hermano Miguel near the top of the Escalinatas.” So even though Diana had moved the bookstore twice in the last three years, “we did it again,” he said. 

While Jim is the owner, the Carolina Bookstore is a team effort. Diana has been with the shop since 2013 and has a primary role as manager. Martin, or Marty as he is known, is the familiar face at the front desk with the big smile and ready assistance.

He also hosts a fun and entertaining game on Wednesdays from 12:30 p.m. to approximately 4 p.m. at Common Grounds called Gringo Bilingual Bingo! Cards are at twenty-five cents apiece or a 4-card sheet for $1.00. It’s a great way to learn and/or practice one’s Spanish. Besides Jim, Diana and Marty, there are a whole host of Ecuadorians assisting in returning the Carolina Bookstore to its former utility.

Carolina Bookstore is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. and they do not close for lunch.

They can be reached via: phone: 098-123-5136 or email:

When asked what books he would suggest expats read, Jim was quick to suggest “Portrait of a Nation,” by Osvaldo Hurtado and “Tumult at Dusk,” by Walker Lowry. Both of these books he considers necessary reading to gain insight into Ecuador, its people and its culture. Are you ready to begin your treasure hunt? If so, head on over to Carolina Bookstore and see what treasures you can find. Your adventure awaits.