Latvian company takes on skateboarding in miniature

Fingerline, a new Latvian company formed in February, is involved in the manufacture of ramps for fingerboards.

Imagine shrinking a skateboard to a size where instead of using one’s feet to ride it, a person uses two fingers to do the usual tricks. Fingerboarding, or the sport where one does these tricks, is an official discipline within the sport of skateboarding. The first Latvian championship in fingerboarding took place in March in Liepāja.

For doing the tricks enthusiasts can either build their own wooden mini-ramps or can purchase them from Fingerline.

Three entrepreneurs, Mareks Sekstello, Valerijs Cīrulis and Ingars Dilāns, took advantage of the downturn in the Latvian economy, locating manufacturers for the wooden ramps, the metal slides and the chroming process, as well as getting a logo design in readiness for displaying their models at the Latvian championships. They were able to get a lot of cooperation and responsiveness from most people they spoke to as the downturn meant that people were very keen to get some work. 

In his youth, Sekstello said, he was a skateboarder. With his friends, he used to construct his own skateboarding ramps on which to do his tricks. But recently he again began to take an interest in what was new in the skateboarding world and realized that fingerboarding might present a business opportunity.

As well as being skateboarders, Sekstello and Cīrulis are also musicians who have written compositions together, while Sekstello and Dilāns are co-owners of a security firm. Each brings different skills to Fingerline with Sekstello and Cīrulis managing the company and being involved on the IT side, Sekstello being the designer, and Cīrulis doing the major running and sharing the duties in the organization of sales, manufacturing and supply. 

They got their models ready and displayed them at the Liepāja Arena during the Latvian Fingerboarding Championships, receiving a great response from the competitors. While the competition was taking place on the championship ramp, all of the other competitors were playing on the Fingerline ramps, attracted by the new styles, the Fingerline owners said. Fingerline made its second appearance at the Ražots Latvijā (Made in Latvia) exhibition on March 25. One of the advantages of the sport is that participants don’t have to be athletes or of any particular age to be involved in fingerboarding.

Research by Fingerline’s owners revealed a company in Germany manufactures and retails fingerboarding ramps, while another in Spain imports ramps from China. Fingerline manufactures everything in Latvia. The company, according to the owners, intends to keep designing new styles to stay ahead of the competition. By producing fingerboarding ramps in Latvia, the company can keep prices lower than the competition. Prices for the ramps range between LVL 5 for a relatively simple model to about LVL 2,000 for complex models designed for local councils and schools.

The three entrepreneurs said they hope the high tax rates on employment in Latvia will be reduced as they see this as an inhibiting factor on their business. They also are waiting to see what the government might do to encourage manufacturing in Latvia. The owners intend to keep reinvesting in new designs. From the experience they have accumulated so far, they said they can get new products out before their competitors. They are interested in attracting new investors for their company and locating distributors or agencies in other countries.

For information about Fingerline’s products see


Young fingerboarding enthusiasts pose by a course manufactured by Latvian company Fingerline. (Photo courtesy of Mareks Sekstello, Fingerline)

Pharmacy-themed bar finds place in owner’s ancestral homeland

Kristaps Krēsliņš used to live in Washington, D.C, where he ran a popular little place called the Pharmacy Bar and played rock music. Now he lives in Latvia and runs the Aptieka Bar in Rīga.

Having traveled intermittently to his ancestral homeland with his band—Mācītājs on Acid—since 1989, Krēsliņš and his wife decided it was time to try living the Latvian lifestyle on a more permanent basis and moved to Latvia with their two young daughters. On Nov. 1, 2008, he opened the Aptieka (Pharmacy) Bar in Mazā Miesnieka iela, a small cobblestone street in the Rīga’s Old Town district.

The little bar, a continent away from its namesake, attracts a similar crowd to that in Washington: young musicians, artists, students and design people. The bar also gets its regular expatriate crowd, mainly from the U.S. and Canada.

Though it wasn’t planned that way, in Washington his bar is staffed by men, whereas in Rīga the staff is all female and he generally only employs friends. He has had the same staff for more than four years in America and there hasn’t been any staff turnover in the Rīga bar.  He lets his staff organize their shifts amongst themselves, as he himself is a fairly laid-back individual.

The bar on the ground floor of a historic old building has a modern design but the old stone walls give it the feeling that it’s always been there. In keeping with the pharmacy theme, old bottles used by pharmacists line the shelves. The tables have an interesting touch, with pills and capsules encased under the glass surface. There is a free jukebox with classic and independent rock.

Krēsliņš and his wife say they love the beautiful countryside and the sea, both of which are so accessible from Rīga. The only anxiety Krēsliņš said he has is about the economy, which obviously affects people’s disposable income. However, the bar is breaking even and in these times that’s a measure of success. 

Local friends were a great help with information regarding the opening of a business. Although the number of licenses required are numerous, even including official approval and a license for the bar’s drinks measure, it has never been suggested to him that he should pay a bribe to move things along, Krēsliņš said. In this latter respect he said he believes that Latvia often gets an undeserved bad rap about its business environment, but he does believe that the taxes are too high. Before setting off for Latvia, he remembers his friends in America warning him to be careful because of stories they’d heard about Latvia and questioning whether it was such a good idea, but he has no regrets about having made the move. 

Krēsliņš, who plays rhythm guitar, has good contacts in the Latvian music industry and organizes free shows with high quality musicians for patrons in the basement of his bar twice a month on Sunday nights.         

The pharmacy link comes from Krēsliņš’ grandfather, who was a Rīga pharmacist. An interesting painting overlooking the bar was inspired by a photograph taken of him working in the pharmacy of a refugee camp in Germany.

Further information about the bar is available on its website,

Aptieka Bar

The Aptieka Bar in Rīga’s Old Town is situated in a historic building and is decorated with elements of a pharmacy. (Photo courtesy of Aptieka Bar)

English bookshop in Rīga fills niche

The first English-language bookshop in Latvia is owned by Robert Cottrell, an Englishman and former journalist who worked previously with the Economist and the Financial Times.

The store, Robert’s Books, is located on Dzirnavu iela opposite the Albert Hotel in the famous Art Nouveau district of Rīga (the official address is Antonijas iela 12).

Cottrell is married to Solveiga Silkalna, the Australia-born former Latvian ambassador to the United Nations in New York. The couple, who met in Brussels 12 years ago when they were both working there, are now raising two young children who are fluent in English and Latvian. Cottrell, who claims to speak only rudimentary Latvian, said he is trying to keep up with his children with the help of books given to him by his Latvian in-laws. Silkalna, who is now based in Rīga, has been seconded to the prime ministers office as the advisor on foreign affairs.

Cottrell said that living in Latvia, he decided he needed something to keep him occupied and therefore set up a bookshop.

Originally Cottrell opened the bookshop in Jēkaba iela in Vecrīga in May 2009, but there was insufficient passing traffic, so new premises were found in Dzirnavu iela and the shop reopened in November. An interesting fact about the first shop, which was located near the Saeima (Latvian Parliament), was that the leaders of the new political grouping Vienotība signed their cooperation agreement in his shop.

Cottrell, who obviously thrives on challenges, was the main organizer of the international Isaiah Berlin Centenary Conference last year, which brought many distinguished speakers to Rīga. From time to time he also hosts informal talks at his shop, which can accommodate about 20 listeners. Among the invited speakers and visiting authors have been Edward Lucas, Gideon Rackman, Bruce Stokes and Pauls Raudseps.

What he finds attractive about Rīga, Cottrell said, is the scale of the city and the range of cultural activities, a favorite being the opera. Rīga, in his view, is an easy and pleasurable city to live in with plenty to do without the logistics of life in New York, London or Moscow.

Cottrell had no previous experience in shop-keeping or the book trade, but was inspired to open a shop after seeing English language bookshops like Prospero in Tbilisi and Globe in Prague. Besides his own vast book collection, he sources his books from three dealers in the United Kingdom.

Although the shop was started up more for pleasure and as a hobby, he is already selling a few hundred books per month. He has noticed a very intellectual customer base experiencing a large demand for the classics and books about philosophy.

The anticipated demand from foreign tourists was much slower than expected with customers coming mainly from returned diaspora Latvians from the U.S., Canada and Australia, as well as university and high school students. With the recession in Latvia, he has found that there certainly is a market for cheaper English language books costing from one to three lats.

Plans to run a coffee shop in the bookshop have been put on hold as the health regulations in Latvia can be quite daunting. Cottrell admitted that when setting up a business here, there seem to be a large amount of forms to fill in and that a good bookkeeper is essential for running a business in Latvia.

For more on Robert’s Books, visit

Robert Cottrell in his shop

Robert Cottrell, a former journalist, is the owner of Robert’s Books, which specializes in used English books. (Photo by Daina Gross)

Robert's Books window

An unassuming window alerts passersby to the location of Robert’s Book in Rīga. (Photo by Uldis Brūns)