Cheers for Borders re-opening

Borders Books at Wheelock Place

SINGAPORE - Book lovers and sellers greeted news that Borders Books will re-open in Singapore with cautious optimism.

The international bookstore brand, which went into receivership in 2011 and closed in Singapore in September that year, is being revived by Singapore company Popular Holdings.

Popular, which operates over 60 bookstores here, bought the rights to use the Borders brand here and will open the new store in Westgate mall. The mall in Jurong will open in the fourth quarter of this year.

Some players in the book industry Life! spoke to welcome Borders' return.

"The more people are exposed to a good bookstore in a physical environment, the better," says Mr Kenny Chan, 61, store director of Books Kinokuniya.

He is not worried that the new Borders might compete with Kinokuniya's first venture into the suburbs: A 7,600 sq ft store in Jem, also in Jurong, which opened in June. He adds: "The Kinokuniya Jurong store is doing fine. Another bookstore will hopefully lead to attracting and growing a core community of book lovers."

Mr Edmund Wee, 61, publisher and chief executive officer of local publishing company Epigram Books, agrees. "To me, the opening of any bookshop is an occasion to celebrate. Bookshops are cultural institutions and we need as many of them as possible in every neighbourhood," he says.

The news of Borders' revival comes after a series of bookstore closures. Page One at VivoCity closed in 2011 and Popular Holdings' three Harris bookstores followed suit that year and the year after.

Harris Planerds at 313@Somerset, Popular's attempt at cracking the comic-book market, closed last year as well and its flagship lifestyle bookstore Prologue in Ion Orchard will close on Aug 25.

Financial pressure forced the international Borders Group to sell off its Singapore, Australian and New Zealand stores in 2008. They were bought over by Australian company Redgroup Retail, which was itself placed in voluntary administration in February 2011.

Some players acknowledge that the competition from Borders' re-opening might affect business.

Mr Mazmur Andreas, 27, operations manager of local online bookstore OpenTrolley, says: "Borders will be competing with us and affecting us negatively in some ways."

One big question is how Popular, known for selling textbooks and assessment books, will run the store.

When Borders opened at Wheelock Place in 1997, it became a popular hangout because of its wide selection of books and music, a bistro, late opening hours and its prime location.

But consumers became disenchanted when the store cut back on its book and music selection and started to stock non-book items such as cookware and toys. Poet Alvin Pang, 41, says: "I don't think it's Borders returning, it's the Borders' brand returning. There's a big difference.

"It would be nice if we could get the whole Borders range and the unique things which you can get only from its warehouses and catalogue, but whether it will be like that remains to be seen."

Mr Kenny Leck, 35, owner of bookstore Books- Actually and publishing imprint Math Paper Press, also emphasises the importance of offering the right books to customers. He says: "Borders closed down because it brought in books that nobody wanted to buy.

"You step into a bookstore and it's trying to sell you a book about a famous rugby player from Australia, would you buy that?" His advice? "It should stock whatever the customers want that they can't get easily."

Mr Wee also hopes that Borders will focus on being a bookstore and will not dilute its offerings with other items. "I'm never happy when I get into a bookstore and see soft toys," he says.

"Be a bookstore. Be a good bookstore. Stick to books, maybe you can deviate a little, but fill up your store with books."

For now though, everyone is just waiting to see what will happen when the store opens its doors.

Pang says: "The proof of the pie is in the eating. Everyone wins if Popular can pull it off and come up with a revitalised Borders, but I'm not holding my breath."


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