Eslite launches longest underground book street

OPPORTUNITY::Mercy Wu, who has replaced her late father as chair of the bookstore, said the new project creates the conditions for people to ‘run into books’

Staff writer, with CNA

Wed, Aug 09, 2017 - Page 4

The Eslite Bookstore chain on Monday officially opened the nation’s longest underground book street in Taipei, creating what the city hopes will become a new tourist attraction.

The 261m book street, named R79 Eslite Underground because it is close to exits R7 and R9, is in an underground walkway between the MRT Zhongshan Station and MRT Shuanglian Station.

The walkway used to be part of the Zhongshan Metro Mall, an underground shopping mall that sells clothes, food, discounted books and other products, but Eslite won a bid in March to transform a section into a book street.

The underground complex features more than 60,000 titles on a wide variety of topics and also includes shops that sell cultural and creative products, vinyl records, stationery, food and coffee.

Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), who attended the opening ceremony, said the transformation of the underground walkway was a success, predicting that the book street, which opened ahead of the Taipei Universiade, would become a new scenic spot for travelers visiting the city.

Ko also praised Robert Wu (吳清友), the founder and chairman of Eslite Corp who died of heart disease last month, as a man who “changed the definition of bookstores in Taiwan.”

“He brought humanities, art and creativity into people’s lives,” Ko said, adding that the book street was Wu’s last project.

Wu’s daughter Mercy Wu (吳旻潔), who has taken over as Eslite’s chairwoman, said her father’s wish was that commuters who used to spend five minutes walking the corridor will stay for at least half an hour and that others will pay special visits to the book street.

“The beauty of the Zhongshan underground book street is that it creates a lot of opportunities for people to run into books,” she said. “We hope to create these chance meetings not only in Taipei, but in various public spaces across Taiwan.”

Eslite is to pay rent to Taipei Rapid Transit Corp for the space, which the metro company estimated would increase its earnings by more than NT$10 million (US$331,115) per year compared with the previous operator of the space, which suffered annual losses.

Maru Yuan, who works in the publishing industry and visited the book street on Monday, said that in an age of fewer bookstores, the book street is a way to bring ordinary people closer to books.

“It may be crowded outside, but inside it is a paradise for reading,” she said.