Bookstore Blues For Mumbai?

When Manney's, Pune's iconic bookstore had to shut shop last week, book lovers in the city gave it a fitting farewell. As the shutters come down on another single bookstore, what does this mean for their counterparts in Mumbai? Surekha S browses through the last few that are still standing

Satish Khot, who has shared a bond with Manney's bookstore for 50 years, is a sad man. Manney's, the 63-year-old bookstore that was a favourite for generations of Puneites shut shop recently. He organised a farewell for his beloved bookstore, and bid it a tearful goodbye, along with numerous booklovers who showed up for the event. Khot admits that the next generation doesn't have the time and the patience to browse through books, and to read.

Strand Book Stall in Fort. Pic/Bipin Kokate.

"I remember cycling down to Manney's as a young 15-year-old boy, when I did not have money to buy books. I would find a corner and read. It is unfortunate that it is getting difficult for single bookstores to survive," he says.

Back in Mumbai, though Noor Ali Abdullah Merchant, owner of Mahim's 62-year-old Victoria Book Centre and Circulating Library has never visited Manney's, he believes that if the reason for shutting down is bad business, he understands it, completely.

"These days, people choose to watch television over reading a book. Readership is coming down, drastically. From the 1990s, we began selling DVDs and VCDs as well and that is what is helping us sustain ourselves," he reveals. The store was set up by his father as a soap store, which later started selling comic books. Soon, it took the shape of a full-fledged bookstore and a library.

Manik Mani, the owner of Manney's bookstore in Pune. Pic/Anil Naik.

"The membership of the library has also come down. People lead such hectic lives that they seldom find time to read. Even when I go home after a long day, I watch television for a while then I go to bed," he admits. "The reading habit is decreasing and the library business in Mumbai is almost dying," he adds sadly.

The Chemist Shop Syndrome

Merchant's opinion is seconded by Vidya Virkar, proprietor of Strand Book Stall. She admits, "In the past one and half to two years, there has been a decline in numbers." Strand Book Stall has two outlets, one in Mumbai, which started 63 years back, and one in Bangalore, which started 15 years ago. "The decline which I have seen in both the cities seems to be due to what I call The Chemist Shop Syndrome. There is one that has opened up in every corner," she says.

Prior to these two years, the decade was witnessing a steady increase in readership, according to Virkar. But, as a large number of bookstores have opened up, there aren't enough readers to sustain these stores. "Chain bookstores have also presented a challenge. But we have always had a great loyalty base, which helps us sustain. We have an eclectic collection, offer great discounts and have a unique selection as well. Our profit margins are low, which makes people get books at amazing prices," she shares.

Serve and sustain

But, Amrita Somaiya, who started Kitab Khana at Fort last year, feels that stocking good literary fiction, great children's collections and encouraging regional literature, sets them apart from other bookstores, and will ensure they sustain themselves without much difficulty.

"The number of customers has increased since when we started," she admits. Her mantra for the single bookstores to sustain themselves is simple: "Give dedicated service to readers and make books available at cheap prices. This will ensure benefits in the long run."

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