New bookstore trend offers readers a unique experience
The transition to online bookselling has resulted in the closure of many brick-and-mortar bookstores, with e-commerce platforms offering greater convenience and selection. Nevertheless, a few physical bookstores have managed to persevere by drawing on classic charm, unique aesthetics, or innovative touches to attract avid readers.
In Shanghai's Songjiang District a number of bookstores have opened, catering to different needs.
The Nan Cun Ying Xue (Snowy Village) Bookstore, located on an old street in Sijing Town, is hidden in the old relic house of the Guan family, from the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). After years of renovation, this new-concept reading space, a pilot project by the Xinhua Bookstore Group, brings visitors a unique reading environment.
Down the stone steps and strolling through the tranquil courtyard with a Zen-like landscapes, it's like stepping back to the days of yore. Past the wooden door, the space brims with the fragrance of printing ink as well as coffee and tea.
The bookstore relies entirely on the structure of the original ancient house. Every brick, carving and detail exhibit the original style of the old architecture, allowing readers to enjoy a private and peaceful time in this century-old mansion.
Duoyun Books, located in the Huizhou-style (ancient Anhui) architectural complex within the Guangfulin Cultural Relics Park, also exudes ancient charm.
Covering an area of over 1,600 square meters, the bookstore is a complete relocation of an intact Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) compound.
It's divided into two levels, with the indoor and outdoor areas integrated, with functional spaces that include reading, culture and creative areas, exhibitions, lectures and tea tasting.
The two landscaped courtyards feature a pine tree and cloud-shaped rockeries, indicating the poetic nickname of Songjiang "the land in the clouds." A slow-paced life with a touch of simplicity is the bookstore's philosophy. It hopes readers can sit down, sip a cup of tea and enjoy a good book for a couple of hours.
"The next step for Songjiang is to continue building a cluster of beautiful bookstores, introducing more distinctive bookstores, while creating more cultural spaces for in-depth experience in the district," said an official with the Songjiang Culture and Tourism Bureau.
Zhongshuge, known as "the most beautiful bookstore," opened its first bookstore in Songjiang in 2013, and quickly gained fame as a unique and charming bookstore that offers a wide and diverse collection of books, combined with an area for children, reading salons and a cafe.
From a shabby little bookstore tucked away in a remote suburban area to today's group of giant chain stores spreading across China, the founder Jin Hao is the helmsman steering the project. The 61-year-old Songjiang native has set an example of how brick-and-mortar bookstores can survive in the era of digital books.
Its success owes much to its stunning interior design that features super modern elements. At the West Bund store, the bookshop is decorated with mirrored ceilings and dome-shaped bookshelves, with golden-yellow lighting, adding a sense of sacredness to the space. Its Hangzhou store in Zhejiang Province is themed with forest elements, and the bookshelves are designed as pillars supporting the roof, while the Guiyang store is built like a giant limestone cave, a geographic characteristic of Guizhou Province.
The interior atmosphere has made Zhongshuge a "must-see" destination, drawing flocks of young people to take photos and post selfies once it's opened in a new city.
But if people only come to the bookstore for selfie or coffee, then what's the point of making it a bookstore?
Jin gives his answer. "Going viral is like a double-edged sword. If it's too popular, true book lovers will get annoyed, but if no one knows about it, the bookstore will fail," he said frankly.
"The reason we put so much effort into the interior design is to get people through the door, and hope the enchantment of the venue turns them into bookworms."
Zhongshuge carefully selects books and localizes the store in different places. Its downtown shop mainly features books on urban life, management, economics and foreign languages, while in the Minhang and Songjiang stores that sit by dozens of communities, the books are mostly about daily life and children's reading.
"But no matter what kind of books are selected, they are all from the best publishing houses with the highest quality. It's hard to get on my suppliers list," Jin said.
Zhongshuge may have started a new era for the physical bookstore industry. After Zhongshuge, many other bookstores with new designs that offer coffee and reading activities began appearing. It marked a return to the bookstore for many readers.
The Bookstore by the Foot of a Hill located by Sheshan Hill merges itself into the green forest. When people walk in the store, they venture into nature. It offers a moment of peace, and a getaway from the city bustles.
In the Cangcheng Town historical protection zone, the Weijue Bookstore sits hidden away. The shop only allows reading, no selling or borrowing. Upon entering, a stone path covered by green moss, past the courtyard, leads to the reading space. The store has nearly 10,000 books, mostly old ones, including many rare and precious copies.
Despite the increasing trend in unique bookstores, the industry will never reach pre-online levels. "It's an irreversible momentum and digital reading has become the mainstream as the technology develops," Jin admits. "But I won't give up, because the city always needs a bookstore to soothe people's mind."