HK's 25-hour bookstore proves to be an overnight success

grey words Story never ends at city's first 24-hour bookstore, with the unique experience proving a hit with night owls, after-hours crowds and occasional sleepyheads

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 August, 2012, 12:04pm

Nestled comfortably in an armchair, Nick Liao Liqin was curled up with Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. While this may not be a novel sight, Liao was not wiling away an afternoon at home - he was at a bookstore, and it was 5am.

Welcome to the new Eslite store, three storeys and open round the clock from Thursdays to midnight on Sundays.

The South China Morning Post spent the night yesterday and found a mixed crowd of hardcore book lovers, insomniacs and curious customers.

Taking up 41,000 sq ft at the new Hysan Place shopping mall in Causeway Bay, Eslite is the Taiwanese firm's first foray overseas.

With the city often derided as a "cultural desert", there have been concerns that there are not enough avid readers to sustain a round-the-clock bookstore, which has proved a runaway success across the strait.

Liao, a 26-year-old financier based in Shanghai who visits Hong Kong regularly, arrived at midnight and stayed for five hours.

"I read The Jungle Book in Chinese when I was young, and now I want to read it in English," he said. "I hope to finish reading the whole book here."

By 5am, drowsiness caught up with him and he never got to read the book cover to cover. It went back on the shelf.

"It's nice to have other people accompany you in reading," said Liao, who is a fan of the Eslite store in Taipei. "If I am out late in Taipei, I like to end the night tranquilly by visiting the bookstore."

Others were more excited by the store's stylish design. At 3am, the shop proved the perfect setting for an impromptu pictorial by 10 staff from a fashion store across the street.

One of them, Winnie Chan Wing-tung, admitted they wandered in looking for food: "All of us like to grab a meal after work and we thought they might have a restaurant here." She quickly added: "But we're here for the books too, of course."

While 24-hour eateries like McDonalds in Hong Kong are often teeming with sleeping customers who linger overnight, the Post only spotted three customers in Eslite happily snoozing away mid-read.

There were also plenty of couples of all ages strolling through the aisles holding hands or reading together.

Carlos Ngan Ka-ho and Ivy Chong Tsz-yan, both 26, decided to visit the store at midnight after dinner. Ngan, a landscape architect, was thrilled to see a range of books related to his profession - which are rarely available in other stores.

"I think most people are here for the novelty because it's not like you see such crowds at stores like Page One," Chong said.

Husband and wife Lee Mang-wah and Chan Suk-ching, meanwhile, enjoyed a midnight reading of history books. They said they were pleased to find that the store had seating - a rarity for Hong Kong booksellers.

"It was still quite hard to find a place to sit, but Hongkongers are very resourceful - there are people sitting on the edge of the shelf," said the amused Lee. "People here are really here for the books; you can tell by the long queue at the cashier. This is easily the best book store in Hong Kong."

Perhaps the most telling measure of the crowd last night came during the store's first midnight meet-the-artists session, where cultural critic Ma Ka-fai conversed with film director Pang Ho-cheung.

As crowds flocked, one man stood on his tiptoes to see what was going on. "Ka-fai who?" he said before leading his girlfriend away.

The store's 24-hour sessions are on a trial basis until September 16.