24-hour bookshop a first for the city

Amy Nip

Taiwanese firm Eslite will open not just its first bookstore in Hong Kong next week but the city's first 24-hour bookstore.

The store, on three floors of Causeway Bay's new Hysan Place mall, will operate around the clock from Thursdays to Saturdays, at least initially.

Executive vice-president Mercy Wu Wen-chieh yesterday said the 24-hour concept was a response to readers' requests. 'It brings them a sense of security. The shop is there whenever they need it,' she said.

The round-the-clock arrangement will be reviewed in mid-September.

On the question of how Eslite would deal with people who fall asleep in the shop late at night, Catherine Wang Po-qi, operating director of Eslite Spectrum Hong Kong, said it was understandable that readers would occasionally feel drowsy while reading.

She said she did not think customers would misuse the store.

'Hongkongers are very disciplined ... if someone is sleeping on the floor, we would check to see if he needed help,' she said.

Experience in Taipei has shown that, in the four hours between 10pm and 2am, it can sell as third as many books as in a full day. Its stores there see few customers after 2am.

Apart from its unusual operating hours, Eslite has also set out to win local readers over with its collection of 100,000 book titles - similar to the number on offer at its flagship Taipei store.

Sixty per cent will be Chinese-language books, with the rest in various other languages, predominantly English. The much higher ratio of foreign-language books in Hong Kong - compared to the roughly 15 per cent at its Taiwanese outlets - is to cater to local readers' tastes, Wu said.

The shop's floors will have different themes. Best-sellers, children's books and popular mainstream books will be on the eighth floor, alongside shops selling organic products.

It will be quieter on the ninth floor, which will cover literature, the arts and humanities and have a tea room, an audio-visual shop, an art gallery and a function room.

Travel books, magazines and stationery will be on the 10th floor.

'People will be able to find books on very specific areas. We will not just offer bestsellers,' Wang said.

Books will take up 85 per cent of the shop's floor space, compared to 30 per cent in the Taipei flagship store, where the remaining 70 per cent is used for other products.

Eslite has hired about 100 staff, 80 of them local.

Wu acknowledged the difficulties of running a bookstore.

'Rent levels and labour costs in Hong Kong are much higher than in Taiwan ... we wouldn't be here if our primary goal is to make money,' she said. Eslite wanted to be a cultural leader across Asia, she said.

Two exhibitions and 33 cultural activities, such as book-sharing, will be held in the first month after opening. Eslite hopes to open three to five stores in the next five years, focusing on busy districts such as Tsim Sha Tsui and Central. Hysan has provided a rent concession.