Mon, Jan 27, 2020 - Page 2 News List

Self-service bookstore a fun experiment: owner

By Yang Yuan-ting  /  Staff reporter

Wu Ya-hui, the owner of a “self-service” bookstore in Taipei, gestures in the shop on Jan. 2.

Photo: Liao Chen-huei, Taipei Times

The owner of a “self-service” bookstore in Taipei said she is interested in how readers interact with books in the absence of staff.

Wu Ya-hui (吳雅慧), the second-generation owner of Rare Books (舊香居), which specializes in antiquarian books, opened the store on Xinhai Road in July last year as an experiment.

Stocked with more than 20,000 secondhand books, a sign on one wall tells customers how to pay. The books are priced at either NT$50 or NT$100, with the exception of special titles. Payment is cash only.

Rare Books, which she has run with her father for many years, has become a popular tourist attraction, but Wu said she was nervous about opening a self-service bookstore.

“I did not know if this [concept] was feasible,” she said. “But the challenge itself was fun and interesting, and we are very optimistic about human nature.”

Wu said she believes the simply decorated bookstore would attract book lovers.

Many of Rare Books’ old customers, who have more books than their homes can hold, brought boxes of books to the store in the hopes that they could be sold, she said.

Out-of-print antique books were put in Rare Books’ stock, while the rest were kept in storage, she said.

Her family did not want the books to be “lonely,” so they decided to open a self-service bookstore to give people a chance to buy a book they want to read at an affordable price, she said.

While others in the book business were surprised by the approach, Wu said she believes bookstores should return to their original purposes, with books being used as much as possible.

Instead of keeping books on bookshelves or stacked in storage, they might as well be put into the hands of readers, she said.

The rent for the self-service shop is NT$60,000 per month, but that does not include utilities, security system costs and other fees, she said.

However, she is not trying to make a profit, she just hopes the sales will cover the rent, she said.

That means the store just needs to sell 600 books, at NT$100 each, to make the rent, she said.

Since Rare Books has a good reputation for selecting books, many people bought boxes of books from the self-service store after it opened.

Books at the self-service store range from philosophy books published 30 years ago to young adult literature and volumes by food writer Tang Lu-sun (唐魯孫).

A writer who lives close to the store treats the bookstore as their “private library” when they need material, Wu said.

The store has already formed its own “ecosystem,” as customers can discuss books with others or quietly “search for treasures” in the shelves, she said.

At the beginning of the month, Wu launched another “experiment,” keeping the self-service store open all day and all night on Friday and Saturday.

She tested the new hours on Dec. 31, and the result was that readers marked the start of a new year with a book, she said.

Unknown adventures make life interesting, so if she can bring books into people’s lives, then “why not,” she said.

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