Night owls who find reading more satisfying than sleeping were probably dismayed to hear Eslite’s announcement on Tuesday that its flagship store in Dunnan, Taipei, the world’s first 24-hour book shop, is likely to close when its lease expires next year.
That’s old news, actually; chairwoman Mercy Wu confirmed the plan as early as May last year, but this time around, she said there are no plans as yet on what will happen when the 19-year-old store closes.
The 12-storey Eslite building has become a hotspot for Hong Kong visitors to Taiwan since the news of its imminent closure broke out.
Earlier, Wu said Eslite was looking for a new location for its round-the-clock bookstore. Three Eslite branches, including the one in Xinyi District, were being considered as possible relocation site, which could be done by simply extending the store’s opening hours beyond the current closing time at midnight.
The concept of running a non-stop bookstore is a romantic but not so practical idea. When Eslite launched its overseas store in Hysan Place in Causeway Bay in 2012, it promised a 24-hour service. However, after a month’s trial, the store abandoned the idea because of lack of customers.
Seven years later, Eslite is still occupying three stories (8th to 10th floor) of Hysan Place, but the floor area for books and magazines seems to be getting smaller to give more space to fancy items such as artworks, office supplies, fashion accessories and knick-knacks.
Although at times there are more browsers than actual book buyers at the shop, Eslite has managed to survive and, in fact, has opened two more branches in Tai Koo and Tsim Sha Tsui.
That’s a minor miracle in a city where bookstores are almost extinct amid soaring commercial rents.
But no one can really tell what will happen to Eslite in this age of smartphones where people young and old would rather play digital games than reading books.
(In fact, when I take public transport, I cannot help but smile with admiration at commuters who pass the time by reading a book.)
Wu said she hopes Eslite, as a chain store, could maintain its independence and remain the first and last stop of book lovers in the next 10 years.
Long live, Eslite, and good luck too.
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