Soon after blogging about Border’s closure in Singapore, we were hit with news that another popular bookstore, Page One, was exiting the Singapore market. Another crying shame, even more because Page One was a homegrown company that seemed to have found its own niche with its design-oriented collection of books and related products.
I visited Page One on Thursday morning to use up book vouchers before it closed down, and also because there was a 50% storewide discount. What I liked was that it really was 50% – not like other stores that advertise as such to lure you in, only for you to discover that the discounts are only for selected ranges. OK, except maybe for the music CDs which were 30% off. But some books were going for 60% off or more so that averaged things out.
Another thing I’d give credit for is the professionalism of the staff. Even though they knew the bookstore would be closing, they made sure that things were in order. Contrary to what I had half feared, it had not turned into a huge jumble sale, with books piled up in illogical fashion. Staff were working hard to pack related books together and making sure the queue to the cashiers didn’t block common passageways.
I’ve liked Page One’s selection of books, which would arguably be comparable to that of Kinokuniya’s – the last big regional bookstore of note. My favourite category remains business and management, followed by design, and thus I found myself in the former section, staring at rows of empty shelves, wondering if I would find what I was looking for. Not quite, but I found other titles that were good enough to bring insights to my work.
The children’s section, a slightly older colleague informed me later, was sparse (I have not progressed to that stage of my life yet). There were still many comprehensive design books remaining, and I would encourage the more arty types to dive in now.
All I can say is, what’s becoming of our bookstore culture? Two big stores catering to the middle to upper-middle class markets simply could not pay the rent. ‘Economy’ and student-friendly stores like Popular will still survive due to their low price points and bulk demand. But over the years I have seen the presence of local stores catering to middle-class markets, like Times and MPH, whittled away. Happily, niche bookstores seem to be springing up nicely – but again, that caters to a relatively select group and not the mainstream population.
And is paying the rent all that’s important to a shopping centre? Think of the intrinsic value that a good, big bookstore can bring. It draws in customers who may then patronise other shops and dine at your mall. It’s a great meeting point. In the long run, it widens people’s minds and grows intellectual capital.
My message to the uber-capitalists who look more at balance sheets than balanced tenant mixes: You could divide that huge, vacant space into lots of little kiosks which could fetch a higher rental yield per square foot, but you can never take away the magic of a good bookshop – or any other good anchor tenant, for that matter.