In a bind, Chi­nese book­stores try to hold out

Like book­stores ev­ery­where, Chi­nese book­stores in the US are sell­ing more than books to sur­vive in the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion. Call it spe­cial­iza­tion, di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion or evolv­ing, Hezi Jiang in New York, May Zhou in Hous­ton and Lia Zhu in San Fran­cisco re­por

China Daily (Canada) - - DEPTH -

and some­what re­luc­tant to share in­for­ma­tion about her busi­ness.

Com­pared to the Great­wall, the Ori­en­tal ap­pears to cling to the past — books, mag­a­zines, mu­sic and video CDs. There are even a few shelves of video tapes with slightly faded cov­ers. “They are for sale, not for rent­ing,” said Wong.

While the Great­wall car­ries books from the Chi­nese main­land, the Ori­en­tal has books and mag­a­zines from Hong Kong and Tai­wan only. “We also carry books by Chi­nese main­land au­thors if the books were pub­lished in Hong Kong or Tai­wan,” said Wong.

An­other dis­tinc­tive fea­ture of the Ori­en­tal is the num­ber of mag­a­zines it car­ries. “We sell more than 50 kinds of mag­a­zines from Hong Kong and Tai­wan. Some mag­a­zines are for young peo­ple and we do have younger cus­tomers too,” said Wong. One can spot stacks of plas­tic wrapped mag­a­zines with adult con­tent, which can­not be found at the Great­wall.

While the Ori­en­tal may not look very pros­per­ous, it sur­vives in to­day’s mar­ket of Nooks and Kindles and Ama­zon Books. “We have a loyal base of long-time cus­tomers who reg­u­larly come over to look for books,” said Wong.

In San Fran­cisco

The cus­tomers are in their 50s or 60s. They took a copy of Chi­nese news­pa­pers, placed two quar­ters on the counter and left. Lucy Ho didn’t even bother to look up from her iPad.

In her Ev­er­green Books and Sta­tionery store in a shop­ping mall in the Bay Area, the shelves are crammed with var­i­ous Chi­nese books and mag­a­zines, di­vided into cat­e­gories: stu­dents’ text­books and ref­er­ence books, eco­nom­ics and busi­ness, fic­tion, clas­sic lit­er­a­ture and comic books.

At the store’s en­trance there are dozens of the lat­est edi­tions of mag­a­zines pub­lished in Tai­wan and Hong Kong, most of them on pol­i­tics, mil­i­tary or eco­nom­ics. “That’s for men, and this is for young ladies,” said Ho, point­ing to stacks of fash­ion and en­ter­tain­ment mag­a­zines in front of the counter where she sat.

Next to the news­stand was a shelf of DVDs of pop­u­lar Chi­nese dra­mas. “That’s for el­derly ladies,” she said. “Nowa­days, young peo­ple can al­ways find a way to watch free pro­grams on the In­ter­net.”

“My cus­tomers are those aged be­tween 40 and 70, and real book lovers,” she said. “I un­der­stand young peo­ple have a lot of pres­sure from life, es­pe­cially in the Bay Area, where ev­ery­thing is so ex­pen­sive. Who has time to set­tle down and read?”

Chi­nese book­stores in the Bay Area also sell a va­ri­ety of things to sur­vive such as feng shui cal­en­dars, call­ing cards, knick­knacks, even cit­i­zen­ship test ques­tions and hula hoops. But for some it is still not enough. Alpine Books, which had been on a bou­tique street in Moun­tain View for dozens of years, re­cently closed.

“I heard a sushi restau­rant will be open at the lo­ca­tion,” said Janto Yang, who works at a Chi­nese bak­ery op­po­site the shut­tered book­store. “The rent is more than $5,000 a month. She (the book store owner) said she couldn’t af­ford it.”

Ho said one rea­son Chi­nese book stores are not do­ing well is the in­creas­ing cost of get­ting books from China.

“The ship­ping cost is $7 per pound from the Chi­nese main­land and $4-$5 per pound from Tai­wan,” Ho said. “And the books are not re­turn­able, so we must have an ac­cu­rate con­trol of the stock.”

She re­fuses to sell stuff other than books, news­pa­pers and a small amount of sta­tionery and cal­en­dars. “I want my cus­tomers to feel they are in a book store,” she said.

But wor­ried that her book store may not last long, Ho hoped some cul­tural agency of China could take it over as a win­dow to pro­mote Chi­nese cul­ture. “That might be a way to pre­serve it,” she said.

Con­tact the writ­ers at hez­i­jiang@ chi­nadai­, mayzhou@ chi­nadai­, li­azhu@ chi­nadai­


A woman looks at the T-shirts, back-scratcher and sta­tion­ary on sale out­side the Xin­hua Book­store in Flush­ing, Queens. Signs pro­mote the book­store’s ship­ping ser­vice, fram­ing ser­vice and health and nutri­tion re­lated prod­ucts.

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