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As the older generation of Bangalore’s book lovers recount the good ol’ days, the younger ones can only listen in wonder. Some five months after T S Shanbhag brought down the shutters on Bangalore’s favourite bookshop, Premier, the septuagenarian still wakes up to calls from customers, urging him to reopen the outlet. In the tug-of-power between one-off bookshops and bigbuck, multi-city bookstore chains, the reader reigns. And, she seems to be swaying in the direction of the smaller units.
What works for the smaller outlets, despite their cramped and dingy interiors, is the pricing and the camaraderie the reader enjoys with the store manager or owner. However, nothing quite compares to a 90% discount. So much so that a place like Blossom, that introduced to Bangalore the unexplored world of second-hand books, is selling something like 22,000 books a month, and Gangarams, with a clientele that’s a striking blend of the young and the seasoned, regularly tops 30,000 books a month.
Mayi Gowda is an amiable 30-something, an electrical engineer and a book lover. When he passed out of UVCE almost a decade ago, he struggled on the job front. Much to the disappointment of his family, which hails from Mysore, Mayi took a chance with the 1,500 books he owned, setting up the Blossom Book House in Brigade Towers in January 2001. Fittingly, his business blossomed. He has since moved to a 4,000 sqft outlet on Church Street.
About the time Mayi was giving the city’s bibliophiles newer, cheaper options, Krishna, a pavement bookseller, waded into the second-hand book market. Krishna, who graduated in Commerce from an evening college in the city, promptly set up Bookworm, 1,600 sqft in area, split between shops on MG Road and Brigade Road. The USP that Krishna brought to the competition was giving his romance novel section a circulating library twist. He lends out books for an unlimited period for as little as Rs 7.50. Students and young professionals, mostly of the fairer sex, make a beeline to Bookworm over the weekends, and the rush has only increased in these recessionary times. Ravi Menezes, who opened Goobe four months ago, is using the outlet both as a bookshop and a library. For just Rs 250 a month, a member can read to her heart’s content.
Strand Book Stall, the standard for good rates and great range, is the bridge between the two fronts of the book business. Fuelled by the passion of the smaller outlets and the vision of the big chains, Mumbai’s favourite book shop arrived in India’s Silicon Valley in the mid-’90s and literally grew with the Bangalore reader. As an idea, Strand, with its bi-annual book festivals and fabulous discounts, works in a culture where the frills are often relegated to the margins.
“The aim was to expose the city to the Strand brand of reading,” said Vidya Veerkar, who authored Strand’s Bangalore outlet. “When we started, there was the old Bangalore reader, the one who enjoyed reading classics, and also a young floating population that came to the city with the IT boom, keen to explore the world of books. In Bangalore, we’ve grown with the reader.”
Bangalore’s big-city status and growing commercial clout is best likened to a glitzy cover. The cover, however, is no way to judge a book. Turn the cover and you’ll find a city that puts its money where the best deal is.
Image Source: anshu_si