Food, but not for thought, permeates new book megastore

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 11:23pm


It's crowded, noisy and the smell of stir-fried meat lingers in the air - those were just some of the complaints from Hong Kong book lovers disappointed by their first look at the city's biggest bookshop.

Taiwanese chain Eslite has promised its trademark relaxed reading culture at its megastore in Hysan Place, which opened in Causeway Bay yesterday.

But the atmosphere was more reminiscent of the packed annual Book Fair in Wan Chai, as shoppers struggled even to stop in front of a shelf, let alone grab a book and settle down to have a good read.

By the evening, the crowds had got so big that the shop had to introduce a reservation system, with tickets being issued.

At 9pm, streams of people continued to approach Eslite, only to be turned away if they had no ticket. Some criticised a lack of information about the ticketing system lower down the mall.

At one point, some shoppers got angry when a man inside the store tried to let in two friends.

An Eslite spokeswoman said 800 tickets, with an allotted time printed on them, were given out at 5.30pm. They were snapped up within the hour.

Rosa Shiu Suet-ying, who has been visiting Eslite stores in Taiwan for years, had been looking forward to the opening of the chain's first Hong Kong outlet. But while the decorations were the same, the atmosphere was very different.

Such an environment would not allow her to 'taste' a book at leisure.

'Taiwanese people read quietly. You can hear the background music even when it is very soft,' she said.

Student Angie Ma, 22, said the store was much more packed than its Taiwanese counterparts, but has faith in the brand and hopes it will organise more cultural activities. 'The other bookshops are retail shops. I see Eslite as a cultural icon,' she said.

Another shopper said she didn't like how the store mixed English- and Chinese-language books on the same shelf. About 40 per cent of the shop's stock is in languages other than Chinese, mostly in English.

Although the crowds had much to do with the chaos, Jimmy Pang Chi-ming, of publisher Subculture, said the design of the mall and Eslite's presentation of books meant the brand failed to live up to its name.

'Instead of the smell of printed pages, you can smell chicken wings here,' he said, as the smells wafted down the escalators from a food court one floor above.

'It's just another business-oriented, mainstream bookshop,' Pang said. 'I cannot find niche books, nor any politically sensitive books.'