The trouble of upstairs bookstore in Hong Kong

Iris YE

The stair well of Luck Win Books are full of books’ post advertisement. Photo/Iris

On the Nelson Street in Mong Kok, there are cosmetic shops and electronic appliance stores beside the street and the 700 miles road is crowed of tourists from everywhere. However, it also has more than 6 book stores on the street. They are all in the upstairs, quiet and inconspicuous.

It is a characteristic in Hong Kong — most bookstores are on the second floor or underground, whatever they won’t face to the street, because of the high rent. They are called “second floor book store” or “upstairs book store”.

Unlike the noisy street, upstairs bookstores can be very quiet and only a few customers reading in there. Steven Hang, a 37-years-old journalist reads and buys book at this kind of store, and he goes to Mong Kok when he is free.

“Different book stores can have different styles of books which decided by their boss”, Steven said. “Mong Kok concentrated many individual bookstores, so it is easily for me to find the book I want.”

He still remembered that at the 90s, it was a fashion to read books in the upstairs book store. Many young people were standing and reading at holidays. Steven loves reading. But because of his busy job, it is hard to find a leisure time sitting to read. So he forced himself to have a free Sunday afternoon to go to the book store every three weeks.

“We have too much information to read every day. That’s cost me a lot of time.”

According to a telephone questioner by Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress in 2010, nearly 30 percent of Hong Kong residents hadn’t buy a book (not magazine) in one year. And the reason why they don’t read is “too busy”. They are busying doing everything, but reading.

Actually, at the beginning Steven was the fans of Hung Yeh Book Store which can supply seats for readers. As it closed in 2005, he turns to Luck Win Books.

“It really made me sad at that time,” Steven said.

There’s a saying that the book business can be prosperous when the economic depressed. On the contrary, as the economic turns well, it is hard for book store to live. Because you can earn much more from sell an iPhone than a book. Guan Yongjin, a researcher from Public Policy Research Institute of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, thinks it is not the whole reason of that.

“From 2000 to 2014, the number of Hong Kong’s book store declined from 140 to 110, almost 20 percent shunt down”, said Mr. Guan. “On the other hand, some big chain book stores such as Joint Publishing, the Commercial Press and Chung Hwa Book are opening new branch stores and added to 48 stores in Hong Kong, ”

It means that is not the book business is dying, but the individual bookstores can’t survive in the competition. In Mr. Guan’s mind, as Hong Kong’s book market is the same or getting smaller, someone should die when more people divide the “cake”. And the way for them to live is to find their own characteristics and go out of Hong Kong.

However, Steven just wishes that he can touch the paper with the smelling of ink whenever he is free in Hong Kong.