small business

How one man and his bike are using Google Maps to deliver the joy of reading

For bicycling bookseller Mattia Garavaglia, Google Maps not only helped him to reach readers in lockdown – it marked the start of a new chapter for his community.

3-minute read

Listen to Mattia's story

4:19

*Audio in English only

Mattia Garavaglia places a bright green book into a basket and watches as it’s lifted up to the balcony above; just one of the ingenious ways he finds to deliver books to his customers during lockdown.

He disappears on his bike into the labyrinth of cobbled streets that wind around the city of Turin, Italy. Mattia is on his fifth stop of the day – hand-delivering books from his shop Libreria del Golem to dozens of house-bound customers around Turin. When COVID-19 hit Italy, his dreams of owning his own bookshop were nearly shattered. With a little help from Google Maps and a passion for cycling, he found a way to keep the story alive.

Mattia looks up as a customer lowers a basket from her balcony for her book delivery

Born and raised in Turin, 30-year-old Mattia’s love for books started as a boy. When he wasn’t at school, he could be found between the dusty shelves of a used bookshop where he worked. 'As a child, I read a lot of Terry Deary. I loved the funny stuff he used to incorporate while teaching you history', Mattia says. Years later, Mattia was awarded a Laurea Magistrale degree in History and achieved his dream of owning his own bookshop when a shop in Turin went up for sale. It was here that Libreria del Golem was born.

Mattia leans thoughtfully in the doorway to his shop Libreria del Golem
Inside the shop he lays the books out into carefully stacked piles
Hand-drawn sketches and storybook pages line the shop window, clipped onto dangling pieces of string
'In books, you can find everything. One day you might find yourself on Mars, the next day you’re in the year 1800.'

After three and a half years, initially living and sleeping in his shop to get it off the ground, Mattia faced his toughest challenge yet: the COVID-19 pandemic. As the city went into lockdown, local businesses looked for new ways to stay connected with their customers and communities.

On 25 February 2020, Mattia posted a picture of himself and his bike on social media with the caption, 'I’ll come to you'. If people couldn’t visit the shop, he’d find a way to safely take the books to them; whether it meant winching books up to customers in a basket or carefully placing packages on a window ledge. 'A small idea makes a big change', Mattia says.

Within days, his inventory and sales rose threefold. Mattia was back in business. But this brought a new set of challenges. Mattia would spend hours drawing maps using pencil and paper, often plotting 50 delivery points by hand every day. He was spending more time drawing maps than delivering books, so something had to change.

'I found out that with Google Maps, I could just save the locations I needed to get to.'

After he had scheduled all his deliveries for the day, Mattia would use Google Maps to plot the quickest bike route to his saved stops – helping him to deliver more books in half the time. 'It became the backbone of my daily delivery existence', he says.

5 mins 1.5 km Tramite Corso Regina Margherita
7 mins 1.9 km Tramite Viale 1° Maggio
8 mins 2.0 km Tramite Via Sant'Agostino
La libreria del Golem 7 mins 1.9 km 5 mins 1.5 km 8 mins 2.0 km Alessandro
Mattia pedals his bike across Turin’s cobblestone streets He delivers a handful of books to a masked customer through his front door

To top off the deliveries, Mattia’s girlfriend Gida – a local chef – would sometimes make her signature tiramisu and package each book with a sweet surprise.

Their book bundles sparked joy across the city, inspiring Mattia’s partnership with Denise Cappadonia, owner of the LGBTQ+ bookshop NORA Book & Coffee. Rather than competing for business, they worked together to reach more customers and support each other.

When people were stuck at home, they could leave the city and travel wherever they wanted, all in the pages of a book.

Denise Cappadonia Owner, NORA Book & Coffee

Now, Mattia, Gida and Nora are looking for more ways to help their community and independent booksellers across Turin. Wherever the road takes them one thing’s for sure: this is just the beginning of their story.

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