Independent bookstores in Singapore

Independent bookstores in Singapore

While big bookstores in Singapore, such as Borders and Page One, have shut in the last two years, a handful of independent bookstores around Singapore are soldiering on after decades.

Sunny Book Store, now at Plaza Singapura, has been selling new and second-hand books for 28 years, while Chinese bookseller and publisher The Youth Book Company, opened shop in 1955. Both are institutions unto themselves and have loyal customers.

So who's afraid of the e-book and e-retail revolution?

The owners of Sunny and Youth Book may declined to be interviewed for this story, but other surviving booksellers say the trick is to know what customers want.

National Institute of Education lecturer Rhoda Myra Garces-Bacsal, 37, loves to trawl the collection at Silver Kris bookstore at 84 Marine Parade Central. She recently bought a bunch of second-hand $2 Goosebumps novels there for her 11-year-old daughter. "For a dedicated book hunter, it's worth it," she says. "The people in the store are so helpful and knowledgeable."

Silver Kris has been in business since 1976 and owner Andrew Low, 53, knows each title on the densely packed shelves in the roughly 150 sq ft space. This is in spite of the large variety he carries, from second- hand 40-year-old single issues of Red Sonja comics from Marvel, costing from $2, to brand-new copies of supernatural teen series du jour City Of Bones by Cassandra Clare, retailing at $15 compared to $17 at other bookstores.

"Last time, it was easier, everyone was reading the same thing, Enid Blyton or Harry Potter," says Mr Low, who runs the store with his 77-year-old father Low Wee Khoon. "Nowadays, you tell customers Enid Blyton and they'll just look at you."

He and other retailers say the number of book buyers has been falling since the heyday of the 1990s, when children and adults turned to novels instead of TV or smartphones for entertainment. Many are going online to buy print or e-books, but bookstores still have a dedicated following here.

Student Chen Zhang Kai, 26, who is doing a bachelor of fine arts degree in digital arts and animation at DigiPen, prefers going to art bookstore Basheer Graphic Books at Bras Basah Complex to searching for reference books online. "You're not able to browse online, here you can browse books easily," he says, picking out an $82.50 copy of Animated Performance by Nancy Beiman. It sells for $20 less at Amazon.

No problem - to attract customers like him, the store offers student discounts to bring the price down to online levels.

akshitan@sph.com.sg


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