Sun, Jun 24, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Love letters to a bookstore

Kingstone bookstore is known for its unique western-style architecture, historical significance and a place to hang out, and many customer memories will fade with its closure today

By Vanessa Tsao  /  Contributing reporter

Kingstone bookstore on Chongqing South Road as it approaches closing time. It will be closing down today, after 34 years of serving book lovers.

Photo: Vanessa Tsao

Warmth, comfort and a safe haven from reality: Kingstone (金石堂城中店) bookstore’s patrons define what it means to them, as it rolls down its shutters today for the last time. The three-storey bookstore, nestled on a street known as “Book Street,” is closing after the landlord refused to extend its lease.

Despite a renovated interior in 2013 and the addition of a Victorian-style cafe on the third floor, the bookstore’s charms did not ensure its survival in the digital age.

“There is a certain warmth about this Kingstone bookstore,” says Ye Tai-sun (葉泰孫), who attributed its closure — and the earlier closure of another Kingstone in Taoyuan — to bookstores no longer occupying a central role in people’s lives.

“Fewer and fewer people read nowadays,” Ye says.

LOSS OF BOOK CULTURE

In a farewell notebook filled with handwritten messages and drawings, one customer wrote: “Dear Kingstone bookstore, since 1963, I have been browsing your shelves. Today, technology has risen and replaced books: a reflection of a declining book culture. While change is inevitable, it is such a pity that this dream of keeping traditions has instead turned into a nightmare.”

Guo Chia-hsi (郭家希) tells the Taipei Times that the accessibility of online shopping has in part led to the trend of a diminishing book culture.

Guo says that she tries to visit physical bookstores as much as possible, particularly this one, to browse the books she needs. But she still orders books online though it pains her to do so, since she prefers the feeling of physically flipping through the pages of a book before purchasing it.

Wei Nan-tian (魏南天), the owner of SMC Publishing Inc (南天書局), an independent bookstore and publishing company, says that bookstores are closing down because the government does not prioritize culture.

However, he says that society has a role to play too. Bookstores should follow their own values, but to a certain extent this does not guarantee survival: when society does not need what they offer, they inevitably disappear.

“Bookstores provide a deep-seated sense of culture which become a way of living; they are not simply selling as many books as possible to prosper,” Wei says.

Kingstone had been a well-loved intermediate stop between work and home in the 1980s and 1990s. It had served not only as a peaceful place to read but also a casual socializing spot — when flirting students would slip amorous notes to each other.

MEMORIES OF YOUTH

For a frequent visitor surnamed Huang (黃), Kingstone was a constant presence in her life. When she was a child, it was a long-awaited weekly treat as she would pass by it on her way to her piano lesson.

“They would sell lots of stickers on the third floor, and I loved going there as I enjoyed collecting stickers as a hobby.”

As she grew older, she continued to visit the bookstore, seeing it through many changes. But with the changes, her beloved stickers disappeared. The memories she had growing up with Kingstone bookstore made parting even tougher.

“It’s like my childhood memories are disappearing,” she says.

One customer, referring to the street where Kingstone is located, wrote in the farewell notebook that its closure means that they are letting go of a piece of their childhood too.

“[It] followed me through many stages of life, playing important roles in shaping my memories, from my favorite children’s book corner to the various talks hosted, to the lovely haven they offered when I needed an escape from reality while pursuing my studies. I hope this goodbye isn’t forever, and may we meet again later.”

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top