03 November 2003

Los Angeles Boasts Largest Persian Book Store outside Iran

Ketab Corporation sells to world, but supports local community

By Edmund F. Scherr
Washington File Special Correspondent

Los Angeles -- What began as a civil engineer's desire to publish and sell books has now developed into the largest Persian bookstore outside of Iran, located in downtown Los Angeles.

Offering some 10,000 book titles, including every English-language book about Iran and books in English written by Iranian authors, the Ketab Corporation's book store may be the most complete store of its kind anywhere.

In 1981, Bijan Khalili, a graduate of the University of Pahlavi in Shiraz, moved into a Los Angeles neighborhood popularly called "Tehrangeles" because of its numerous Iranian-owned stores, restaurants, and other businesses. There, he founded his book store and its parent, Ketab Corporation.

Ketab was "my love and my first business," Khalili said in an interview. "It is the most complete Persian bookstore in the world," he said, noting that Ketab gets copies of every printed book from Iran and from around the world, mostly the United States and Europe. While it is difficult for Iranians to get books published outside their country, Khalili said there are currently no problems in importing books from Iran for his store.

According to Khalili, the early years were difficult for his business because of the small Iranian community then in the Los Angeles area. "I was stubborn and worked hard to sustain the business," he said. "Every [ethnic] community needs its own bookstores."

The Ketab Corporation publishes about 15 books a year in Persian. "Usually, we do not send books to Iran," Khalili added, because of censorship restrictions there. Most of the books he publishes were submitted, rather than commissioned works.

Among the best selling categories of the store are: politics, fiction, dictionaries and history.

In addition to books, Ketab carries tapes and DVD's of Iranian films and some 1,000 CD recordings of Iranian entertainers and musicians, mostly recorded in the United States.

Through its web site (http://www.ketab.com/category.asp), Ketab attracts book buyers worldwide, including Iran. Even though they cannot order books published outside Iran, Khalili said that Iranians often go to his store's site for information about books published in Iran, "then they go to a regular bookstore inside Iran to buy them."

"It is much easier for them to use our search program on the web site" to get information on Iranian books, Khalili said.

Besides opening the first Persian book store in the United States, he has also used his resources to help the Iranian community in North America.

Community leaders estimate that there are now some 500,000 Iranians living in the United States, and Ketab has created a telephone directory of 175,000 Iranians in the United States. The company has also published an advertising directory (called the "Yellow Pages" in the United States) of Iranian businesses and professional services in the major Iranian population centers in the United States and British Columbia in Canada. The two directories can be found at the Ketab website -- www.ketab.com/

The information in the two directories form the basis of another community program of Ketab -- the Iranian Information Center. It can be accessed on the web at: www.iranianwhitepages.com.

For 12 hours a day, every day of the year, the information center has a group of employees answering phone requests concerning the Iranian community in the United States. During peak hours, the center has six persons answering calls.

Where can I find a Persian speaking dentist in my area? Can you locate my cousin? What are the prospects of an Iranian restaurant in a certain area of California? How can I contact an immigrant support group?

In its referrals to immigrant support groups, Khalili was careful to point out that his service deals with only nonpolitical and nonprofit organizations.

Khalili said that his programs for the Iranian community help individuals with the same background and culture feel part of a larger group. This gives them "pride" in being Iranian-Americans, he said.

The Ketab Corporation is also a free weekly newspaper publisher, "Iranshahr," which is available on its web site (www.ketab.com).

Iranshahr features business and book reviews and articles about developments in the Iranian community, plus news of the United States and Iran.

Since 1979, Khalili observed, there have been hundreds of local Iranian newspapers started in the United States, but only about 50 are still published. In the Los Angeles area, there are ten Iranian papers, he continued, which carry a mixture of local, political and social news.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)




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