It ‘was more like a memorial service than a funeral,’ read a line in an article in The Huffington Post when Borders, a chain of bookstores in the U.S., called it a day in 2011.
At a time when book stores, especially independent ones, are braving the digital onslaught, the smell of books, it appears, can still be a draw in Chennai.
“There is a big market for books here. Chennai has a lot of serious readers,” says Gautam Jatia, CEO of Kolkata-based chain of bookstores, Starmark, which opened its store at Express Avenue on Saturday.
But, books, he says, are more of an impulsive buy, which is why they have to be where the footfalls are high. “In Kolkata all our stores are in malls,” says Mr. Jatia.
The current format, where there are stationery, music, and other products alongside books, works best, he says. “Almost 40 per cent of our sales come from books. e-books have their own convenience, but I think both can co-exist,” he says.
N. Ram, director, Kasturi & Sons Ltd., who inaugurated the store on Saturday, says book stores around the world have come under pressure today. But, while Kindle editions and e-books are exerting pressure elsewhere, “in India, people still love books,” he says.
For actor and television personality, Anu Hasan, who was also present at the launch, it is about the freedom to browse through books.
Though happy that the city got another book store, Sandeep Belsare, says the city needs exclusive bookstores by publishers such as Motilal Banarsidass. “You get books by big publishing houses in most stores. We need specialised, independent book stores,” he says.
But, one such bookstore just down the road, which stocked volumes on anthropology, sociology and translated works, among other genres, has closed ‘for the moment’. Bookpoint on Mount Road now houses only books by publisher Orient Blackswan and its associated companies, says K.A. Roymon, regional manager, Orient Blackswan. Bookpoint is their sister concern.
Traffic diversions and technology have made them change course. “The number of walk-ins had come down, also because of diversions due to Metro Rail work. Unlike in the 90s, parking too is a problem now. Once the Metro project is complete, and if things improve, we may revert to our earlier format,” he says.
But at Giggles, a 100-square-feet bookstore run by the sprightly Nalini Chettur, it was never about the numbers. Ms. Chettur recommends books to her customers, calls them when there are new arrivals and gives discounts only to old, regular and loyal customers, on a handwritten bill.
“If you are independent, you can do all the quirky things you want. At my store, I know all the books without relying on a computer,” she says. “People call me a Luddite, an anachronism,” she says. But, book stores, she says, will never become one in this city. An anachronism.