In a time when almost all of Borders big-box bookstores are shuttered and even Barnes & Noble is cautious about opening new stores, Taiwan’s Eslite Books is betting against the odds. They have just opened their 50th bookstore, and it’s a monolith that is the sole occupant of the 8th, 9th, and 10th floor of a Hong Kong shopping mall.
This massive bookstore is the work of a chain which was founded in 1989. Eslite Books is a name little known outside Taiwan, but it is one of the largest chains there as well as the first to pioneer the concept of a 24 hour bookstore, an idea that I as a post-midnight reader would love to see adopted in the US.
Eslite is calling the new location not a bookstore but a cultural hub. The name is appropriate because while the 41,000 sq ft store does offer a massive selection of titles (more than 100,000 titles on its shelves with 230,000 books in stock), it also sports a coffee bar, tearoom, wine shop, an extensive selection of designer stationery, wellness products, jewelry, leather goods, music and gifts. In fact it is almost a misnomer to call this new store a bookstore. Like B&N, Books-a-Million, and other US chains Eslite has long since expanded beyond merely selling books to include a variety of durable goods.
If anything, Eslite stands less as an example of a thriving bookseller than it shows that the thriving booksellers aren’t booksellers anymore. They’ve had to grow into being a new type of retailer closer to being a cultural center than anything. This is also a move that has been seen in the US with many an independent bookstore who has had to devote more and more time to managing events to draw customers instead of simply waiting for the customers to buy.
Perhaps that is a sign that the idealized bookstore is dead. At the very least it shows that the easy years for bookstores (if they ever existed) are long gone.