Its new space may be 10,000 sq ft smaller, but Books Kinokuniya is determined to keep readers comfortable and to retain the feel of its old store.
It is currently moving one floor above the third-floor corner it has inhabited for the past 15 years at Takashimaya Shopping Centre, following a request from landlord Toshin Development Singapore last November to make way for “new retail options”.
It will reopen this Saturday (Nov 1) in its new 33,000 sq ft surroundings, tucked in a nook behind Crystal Jade Palace Restaurant and Imperial Treasure Teochew Cuisine.
The smaller space means that sacrifices were inevitable. There will no longer be a cafe within the bookstore. The Chinese and Japanese sections will decrease by about 40 per cent in floor area and 20 per cent in range, trimming off the less popular books that store director Kenny Chan says have been “lying fallow”. The French and German sections will also be tightened, sticking to the top-selling titles and “bare essentials”.
This means that the 500,000 books that Books Kinokuniya usually stocks will be reduced to 400,000, with the remaining 100,000 still ready in its database for immediate ordering.
“We are not too worried, because there are some areas where we’re a bit ‘fat’, so it’s a good extreme makeover for us,” Mr Chan adds.
These cuts will be balanced out by the range of its other three stores at Liang Court, Bugis Junction and Jem shopping mall. Books can also be bought through its online webstore.
The staff felt strongly that the range of English books should not be touched, so that will remain the same, right down the wall of literature that greets readers at the main entrance. The popular children’s and young adults’ sections will also maintain their reach.
Work started on the fourth-floor space in July, and is estimated to cost at least $7 million. Kay Ngee Tan Architects, the same firm that designed the old store in 1999, is behind the refreshed store design concept.
Life! went on an exclusive tour of the store last week. The store layout is almost exactly the same, right down the wall of literary fiction by the main entrance. Half of the store’s free-standing shelves have also been retained.
They are hoping to “rebuild memories” of the bookstore that customers are familiar with and fond of, and at the same time work within the limited space to make it as inviting as possible, with light accents in darker corners and windows that frame the green foliage outdoors and bring natural light into the store.
Architect Mr Tan Kay Ngee, founder of the firm, is also the award-winning designer behind many of the other Books Kinokuniya outlets, including those in Dubai, Australia, Malaysia and Japan. A book-lover himself, Mr Tan had the browsing experience in mind when designing the store. He tells Life!: “The scholarly quality of a bookstore must not be lost. A book shop tends to give way to other commercial activities, and to uphold that dignity is not easy.”
He adds, gesturing to a section that has floor to ceiling windows: “Because a book shop is a relatively enclosed environment, if you’re not careful it can be quite stifling… It’s very important to be able to look out and relate to the outside, to have a sense of where you are.
“The natural light actually makes people stay longer. It’s like creating a room for reading, not unlike a good personal library or a study room.”
The Japanese influence on the store’s interior design is subtle but present – the interlocking layout of the store reflects the arrangement of Japanese tatami mats, and the layered bookshelves are influenced by the machiya, Japanese traditional wooden townhouses, which feature latticework and layers of sliding doors. The walkway that guides customers around the store, previously a duller black slate, is now a brighter granite that has the feel of ink splashes on paper. Overall, the feel is cosy rather than cramped.
The request from landlord Toshin for the bookshop to move upstairs came as a shock. Toshin will be releasing more details about its new retail options early next year, with new tenants set to move into the vacated space by the second quarter of 2015.
Mr Chan, who has been on staff for nearly 14 years, says: “We were shocked; we thought we’d be here forever. We’ve made this institution a real iconic one. But on the other hand, we’re also quite practical. We understand the needs of the landlord.” The bookstore gets more than 200,000 visitors each month.
Mr Chan adds: “There’s a lot of talk about the demise of bookstores, so we thought it was time, because we had talked about reinventing ourselves. When we were asked to move out, I guess it was an omen of sorts.”
This move is also a reflection of what often happens in Japan, where Books Kinokuniya was founded in 1927.
Managing director Takuya Yamada says that Japan’s stores do face similar problems: “It’s not the first time for us to hear such a request from the landlord or have to redesign the concept of the store itself. Sometimes the store performance is not good, and that’s why we have to re-establish the store. But in Singapore, the main store has been very successful for 15 years, so that is more difficult.”
Kinokuniya’s Group President, Mr Masashi Takai, said in an e-mail: “We are confident we can still meet the needs of the book-loving community.” He will be coming to Singapore for the launch.
As part of the store’s reopening, all customers will get 10 per cent off their purchases this weekend, with 20 per cent off for Privilege Card members. There will also be musical performances and meet-the-author sessions.
Mr Chan is hopeful: “I think people will still continue to come. In fact, some people may not even notice that we’re one floor up!”
This article was first run in The Straits Times newspaper on October 27, 2014. For similar stories, go to sph.straitstimes.com/premium/singapore. You will not be able to access the Premium section of The Straits Times website unless you are already a subscriber.