City's only 24-hour bookstore shuts down

The Popular Bookmall, the only 24-hour bookstore in Shanghai, is closing its doors today on Fuzhou Road because of tenancy problems and will be seeking a new location.
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Customers enjoying the Popular Bookmall at 10pm last night. The city’s only 24-hour bookstore closes today.

The Popular Bookmall, the only 24-hour bookstore in Shanghai, is closing its doors today on Fuzhou Road because of tenancy problems and will be seeking a new location.

“We are seeking a new site for the shop,” said deputy manager Ji Wanqiu, who added that it may be hard to find a location conducive to 24/7 hours.

The shop, called Dazhong Shuju in Chinese, is one of seven shops in the bookstore chain but the only one open around the clock. The other branches are in shopping malls that preclude 24-hour sales.

Shanghai Daily went down to the bookstore at 1am last Saturday. The store lights simmered into the tranquillity of Fuzhou Road after commercial hours.

There were about 20 people in the store. Some were reading; others looked half asleep.

Yi Song was reading whilst taking notes on his laptop.

“This place is quieter than my school library and it’s open 24 hours,” said Yi, who was doing research on the architectural history of Shanghai. “One of the reasons I’m fond of the place is the shikumen-style architecture at the doorway. It will be a pity to lose this location.”

Another patron, Wu Taiqiu, a former pharmacist, told Shanghai Daily he used to come to the store almost every night when he was living nearby.

“Now I’m retired and living in Jiangsu Province,” said Wu. “But I come to Shanghai once a week to get my medicine, and I spend a night here before I head home.”

He said the bookstore is like a peaceful harbour in the daily storms of life.

“I saw the sign on the door saying it is closing down,” Wu said with a sigh. “Even if it relocates somewhere else, I don’t think I’ll be going to go there. I like this spot.”

My conversation with Wu woke Jiang Yiying, who was snoozing in a chair nearby. She told me she is a cleaner at the Tianchan Peking Opera Center Yifu Theater across the street.

“Sometimes I am too tired to go home after work, so I just take a nap here,” said Jiang.

The bookstore has never tried to evict her out even though she doesn’t buy anything in the shop.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Technically, after 9pm, the bookstore is supposed to be open only to those with membership cards.

“But it is fine if you are not a member,” Wu said. “You just can’t sit at the cafe area.”

A shop clerk agreed that the “membership rule” now exists in name only.

“Many people have their reasons for coming,” he said. “Most of the time they will buy something to drink. You cannot simply throw them out.”

Street people occasionally stray into the shop, and they are tolerated as long as they keep quiet.

“Shanghai is a hard city to live in,” the clerk said as he poured me a glass of milk.

Although the bookstore has repeatedly denied rumors that it is suffering from financial problems, news of the Fuzhou Road closing has stirred heated discussion online. Many people lamented the general decline in the retail market for print books.

“I have read some of the posts on Weibo saying book stores are now stale and unfashionable,” said shop clerk. “But this store is definitely not losing money.”

However, asked about his future, the clerk simply shrugged his shoulders.

“Maybe they will sack me, maybe they won’t be able to find another location,” he said. “Or maybe I can work in the new branch that we know is opening soon.”

A previously announced new branch of Popular Bookmall, located on Qixin Road in suburban Minhang District, will open on January 18, but it will not be a 24-hour shop.

Special Reports