Bookworms in Shanghai have much to celebrate after a challenging 2020, with three prominent brands opening new lifestyle bookstores in December, Zhang Kun reports.
A trio of new lifestyle bookstores opened in Shanghai during the Christmas and New Year holidays, demonstrating that the brick-and-mortar business model is still very much relevant to readers in this digital age.
The first to open amid the festivities was the largest bookstore chain in Japan, Tsutaya Bookstore, which made its Shanghai debut in Columbia Circle in Changning district.
Columbia Circle used to be a community center for Americans in Shanghai during the early 1900s. The bookstore is situated within Columbia Country Club, a historical building within Columbia Circle.
For decades, the building was used as the library of the Shanghai Institute of Biological Products. In the 2000s, the institute moved out of the city center, and the compound was taken over in 2018 and refurbished by Vanke Real Estate, a leading property developer in China.
Zhang Hai, CEO of Shanghai Region Headquarters of China Vanke, said during the bookstore's opening: "The best protection for a historical building is to make good use of it. We hope to carry on the cultural heritage of the area and create a vibrant community and creative hub shared by residents and young career makers."
The refurbishment project sought to retain the Baroque-style architecture of the Columbia Country Club which was designed by Elliott Hazzard (1870-1943). The fireplace and eight Corinthian columns have been left untouched, with new glass walls added for protection.
"We hope to create a cultural attraction for people who love design, architecture and art," says Hu Bing, who oversaw the refurbishment of the Tsutaya Bookstore project in Shanghai."Forty percent of the books are imported, the majority of which are in China for the first time."
Measuring 2,000 square meters, Tsutaya Bookstore brands itself as more than just a retailer of books but also a lifestyle center featuring designer items, fine handicrafts, a cafe and a bar area that stays open until midnight, as well as concierge service that "provides lifestyle solutions".
This concept has evidently resonated with some of its early customers.
"I hope to experience more than just books in a store like this. Maybe there will be readers' clubs and other events in the future. After all, you can easily get books by a few clicks on the computer nowadays," says a customer surnamed Qiu.
For the opening period, the bookstore is presenting an exhibition of sculptures by Japanese artist Kohei Nawa on the ground floor and a calligraphy showcase by Chinese artist Xu Jing on the second floor.
For the time being, most of the products and handicrafts on offer are from Japan, Hu says, though creations by more local artists will be available in the future.
"We will make Tsutaya Books a store of Shanghai characteristics," says Hu.
"We are not concerned about making profits for the time being," he adds. "If we succeed in bringing people in, and building a good reputation for the store, we are confident we will achieve high per-customer transactions."
Tsutaya Books opened its first China store in Maison Moree, a mall close to the Xixi National Wetland Park in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, on Oct 18. The brand says that it plans to open another store in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, in the near future.
Another brand that opened on Christmas Eve was the Duoyun Books－Theater Store on Changle Road in downtown Shanghai. While plays and theater scripts take up much of the shelf space, the bookstore also offers books adapted into theater shows or upcoming movie releases, academic books on theater, as well as an art exhibition of prints by Shanghai-based novelist Jin Yucheng.
The Duoyun Bookstore brand was founded in 2018, when its first shop opened at Guangfulin, an archaeological site of primitive civilizations in suburban Shanghai's Songjiang district.
The flagship Duoyun Bookstore sits on the 52nd floor of Shanghai Center, the tallest building in the city. Standing 239 meters above sea level, it is the highest bookstore in the city.
Located next to the historical Lyceum Theater, the new Duoyun Books－Theater Store hosted a forum that was attended by theater artists, producers and industry leaders.
The forum took place on the third floor of the bookstore, a space for interactive events that can accommodate up to 100 people. The space will be used to host mini theater shows, rehearsals, workshops and lectures, says Xia Qi, the manager of the store.
Professor Rong Guangrun of Shanghai Theater Academy was among those who hailed the new opening, saying that a theater-themed bookstore shares the same mission as a theater academy, which is to provide rich spiritual nourishment to the public.
"Theater connects people and facilitates heart-to-heart exchanges, which is one of the most important things in human existence, especially now that we live in the age of the internet," says Rong.
The new four-story bookstore is the second themed establishment by Century Publishing Group Co. The first was Sinan Books－Poetry Store, located in a former Orthodox church on Gaolan Road. Opened in December 2019, the poetry-focused store hosted 30 public events in the first year, attracting crowds of poetry lovers.
Due to the pandemic, the store held many of its events online last year. In December, it started a poem-composition campaign, inviting members of the public to submit their poems.
While the majority of the participants submitted their poetry online, more than 40 people, including eight children ages 6 to 8, showed up at the store in person to read their creations.
On Dec 28, the store marked its first birthday by having authors and poets such as Han Bo, Mu Ye and Zhang Dinghao share their creations. Customers were also invited to share stories about poetic moments in their lives.
Century Publishing says that it hopes to build a series of new cultural spaces in commercial centers, industrial parks and communities. The leading publishing group of Shanghai hopes these stores can function as cultural centers that can be used as lecture rooms, exhibition spaces and libraries.
The third brand that joined the bookstore family in Shanghai was the Deja vu store. One of the most popular secondhand trading e-platforms in China was Deja vu. It has been popular on social media since its establishment three years ago.
In June, Deja vu opened its first brick-and-mortar bookstore in Beijing. On Dec 26, the store officially opened at 300 Anfu Road in Shanghai, offering customers both books and an array of secondhand clothing.