Hong Kong’s Page One bookstores closed as company faces more financial trouble

The chain was forced to close its 18-year-old store in Causeway Bay’s Time Square mall last year. It has also lost all six of its airport stores over the past few years

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 November, 2016, 2:48pm
UPDATED : Friday, 18 November, 2016, 2:51am

Troubled bookstore chain Page One shut its two remaining city stores yesterday, with the Singapore-based company hit by high rental costs and fierce competition from online sales.

Its outlets in Harbour City, Tsim Sha Tsui, and Festival Walk, Kowloon Tong, each displayed a notice from auditor KPMG ­regarding the appointment of ­receivers Edward Middleton and Patrick Cowley since Wednesday.

“The receivers are still in information gathering mode and we are working hard with the company’s management and staff to assess the current status of the business,” Middleton, head of restructuring at KPMG China, said.

“We are unable to say at this point what the outcome will be, however the business in Hong Kong has been experiencing strained trading conditions for some time.”

Page One opened its first city store in the 1990s, offering a wide range of books, magazines and gifts. However, in recent years it had struggled to attract customers interested in reading and compete against cheaper online sales.

Just last year, it was forced to close its store at Times Square, Causeway Bay, after 18 years. It had also lost all six of its ­airport ­outlets over the past few years.

Despite its troubles, hopes were raised in August when, in ­response to reports that it had been delaying payments to several publishers. it said it was at the ­advanced stage of bringing in potential investors for new funding amid the retail downturn.

“Bookstores need to adapt to consumer behaviour in order to survive. Bookshops that do not change may not be relevant in the market an many continue to ­disappear,” the company said then, adding the chain was in the ­process of adapting to the current demand of consumers.

Unlike a traditional store, just half of its Harbour City outlet was devoted to books. The remainder was occupied by a bakery, cafe, ­florists and retail space for furniture, homeware, bags and jewellery. Its Singaporean founder, Mark Tan, once claimed that such a mix would enable the company to adapt to the new market.

Page One was not the only city bookseller to be battered by high rents and shifting reading habits.

In January last year Australian-based Dymocks, once the city’s largest English language bookstore, ended its 15-year presence with the closure of its flagship IFC store and local office.

However, in the past year Eslite from Taiwan has opened two stores – at Harbour City and City Plaza in Taikoo Shing.

Eslite positions itself as a lifestyle retailer, which offers a mixture of books, fashion, food and beverages, stationery and gifts.

Former Page One customers at Harbour City bemoaned the ­closure of the store, but said it was not a surprise given the company’s previous financial troubles.

Purple Lau, 26, who works in the financial planning industry near Tsim Sha Tsui, said she felt sorry at the demise of the chain, given its long history with the city. But she admitted that had she seldom bought books there recently.

“Their books do not seem to be to the taste of Hong Kong people,” Lau said, adding only university students, professionals and those looking for specific types books would make purchases there. “They were also a bit expensive.”

The Labour Department said it had yet to receive requests for help from staff and was contacting the receivers for more information. Those requiring assistance should ring the hot line 2928 6015.