The advent of New Year's Eve in Taiwan saw another cause for celebration for Taipei's book lovers. The event heralded the debut of the newest outlet of Taiwan's popular bookstore chain -- Eslite Corp (誠品) -- in the vicinity of the Taipei 101 skyscraper in the upscale Xinyi District.
Designed to be another source of pride for the Taiwanese, the new flagship Xinyi store is a domestic record-setting colossus of a bookstore and is expected to add new significance to the so-called "Eslite phenomenon."
Occupying a spacious 7,500 pings (24,750m2) with six stories above ground and two basement floors, it is home to the nation's largest bookstore and a wide array of lifestyle brands, offering consumers a brand-new shopping experience.
"We want to provide the public with a place where they can rest. We also expect this store to open a cultural window for Taiwan to the world," said Robert Wu (吳清友), Eslite's chairman, at the opening ceremony.
What he said might sound like a breeze, but this store has pushed bookstore operations to another level, exploring various possibilities and possibly ushering in another revolutionary wave.
Established in 1989, Eslite took the lead in using wooden bookshelves that incorporate artistic designs, spurring its rivals to follow suit. Its headquarters at the intersection of Taipei's Jenai Road and Dunhua South Road has been operating 24 hours a day since 1999 to serve thousands of Taipei's sleepless bookworms.
Now another landmark has been created.
With an investment of NT$1 billion (US$31 million), the Xinyi store, which took six months to construct, is the product of Wu and his team's imagination and efforts, said Liao Mei-li (廖美立), the company's executive vice president.
In this branch, the bookstore areas occupy 3,000 pings from the second to the fifth floors, with the fifth story exclusively designed for children.
The size is three times its 24-hour headquarters.
The new store houses over 300,000 titles and more than a million books, covering publications in Mandarin, simplified Chinese, English, Japanese and European languages.
Wu said this task is like opening 40 bookstores with annual revenues of NT$30 million, that is, the flagship outlet is expected to bring in book sales of NT$1.2 billion per annum. Five million books and magazines are expected to be sold and 10 million visits to be recorded every year.
Just 40 hours from when the branch opened during New Year's Eve, the new store's book sales hit an astounding NT$40 million with 250,000 visitors recorded, said Lee Yu-hwa (李玉華), assistant manager of Eslite's public relations division.
"We believe that reading can be inspired. These days we've seen many elderly people and kids, new groups seldom seen in bookstores, coming into our branch. Even taxi drivers I talked to all know about its existence," she said.
Store within a store
One of the highlights of the new outlet is its concept of "a store within a store" with the interior and bookshelf arrangements designed to create the corresponding atmosphere.
In the mystery book area, for instance, mirrors -- typically viewed as an important element in creating a sense of mystery -- are set up vertically on top of the low-lying shelves. And when one steps into the art section, it is hard to ignore the ceilings that are made of giant color mixing trays placed upside down.