After declining for years in the face of sharp competition from online sellers, specialty bookstores in Greater Kaohsiung are experiencing a revival, with about 10 stores now listed on the city’s semi-official roster.
Greater Kaohsiung Bureau of Cultural Affairs Director-General Shih Che (史哲) said that publishing firms and bookstores have been strongly impacted by the rise of online shopping, with many medium-sized bookstores being forced to close, while larger ones, such as Eslite, integrate other businesses such as cafes and restaurants into their bookstores to cater to a wider audience.
“I am happy to see these small, specialty bookstores develop in Greater Kaohsiung,” Shih said, adding that the increase in the number of literary salon-type bookstores was in line with the municipality’s policy to develop a well-read public.
Compared with the nation’s four other special municipalities, Greater Kaohsiung has fewer specialty bookshops, with some — such as the Good Bookstore, which mainly sells family and women-oriented books, the City Bookstore in Sanmin District (三民) and the Mr Han Cookbook Specialty Bookstore near the culture center — closing over the past decade or so.
The closures had many wondering whether the proverbial little bookshop around the corner, had a chance of surviving in an increasingly competitive industry.
Integrated stores that combine books and cafes, such as the Sala de Estar in Fongshan District (鳳山), or the Little Tree Cafe Books and Booking in the city center, have fared better than these specialty stores.
However, two recent openings has given some hope to readers.
Just this month, Sanyu Bookstore, touted as the first independent bookstore in Greater Kaohsiung to offer a literary salon ambiance, opened near the city’s culture center.
Sanyu Bookstore primarily stocks non-best-seller books or publications that have already been taken off the shelves at mainstream bookstores, owner Chung Shang-hung (鍾尚宏) said.
Chung said he hoped to promote and expand readership of the humanities and arts because they foster civic consciousness.
Bookshops are something of a sunset industry, and many stores have dropped humanities and arts activities, Chung said, adding that Sanyu will periodically hold book reviews on literature, film, music or travel publications.
Books for such events will be handpicked by local experts, who will offer more in-depth insights into the topic being discussed, Chung said.
These events typically draw about 150 people, showing a strong interest among local residents in such activities, he said.
The second specialty bookstore that opened recently in Greater Kaohsiung is Mollie Used Books, across from the Greater Kaohsiung Public Library in Cianjin District (前金).
The bookstore had invited writers such as Liu Ka-shiang (劉克襄), Chen Hsueh (陳雪) and Hsieh Che-ching (謝哲青) to lead this month’s reading sessions, which it said were very successful and solidified the bookstore’s position in the city.