Bookshops in Mumbai

Have you ever entered a bookstore and felt swept away by the atmosphere? Rows and rows of books lined in mahogany book cases or simply stacked to the ceiling without a care about stylish interior design? Have you met a bookstore owner who knows exactly where a particular book is in that stack, and is ever so willing to chat about your favorite author? Chances are, it was your friendly neighborhood-across-the-road-tiny-yet-quaint-bookstore. Well, I’m not saying the big chains are not doing their thing well, but, the kind of experience you have at small, independent stores compared to the chains and supermarkets is entirely different. There are, however a couple of big bookstores are definitely worth a mention here, owing to the superb collection of books, and staff who do know their books.

If you ever visit the city of Mumbai, and you’re a book-lover who wants to explore the bookstores in the city, here are some of them you should check out. Mumbai is definitely book-lover friendly, and you will not be disappointed. The variety of bookstores here is amazing, small, large, in the most posh locality, a glaring misfit in a fish market, by the sea, in a fabulous Victorian building, at the rail stations, – you have them all.

However, I found one trend quite disturbing, and that is the closing down of a few independent bookstores in the last few years. One of my favourites, Horizon, which had its loyal customers, was shut down a year and a half ago. It was one of those small, yet complete bookstores which one couldn’t help falling in love with. It was located very close to the Vile Parle railway station, which helped college goers and others on the move, immensely. I feel the loss personally, because I’ve spent hours perched on a stool browsing to my heart’s content. Another one of Mumbai’s favourites Granth has also shut down one of its two stores. Granth had two stores , one in the CIti Centre on SV Road in Goregaon, and the other one in Juhu. Now, only the Juhu bookstore stands, and the Goregaon one has been closed down.

I’m not sure why these two bookshops, and perhaps others have shut down, but I feel like a part of the reason could be the advent of the huge supermarkets and chains that have become so popular now. The rows and rows of DVD’s and the colourful toys, stationery, sometimes chocolates, perfumes, watches, and what-not that have been stocked in these stores have made them an instant hit with people, mostly young professionals, college goers and even kids. Maybe it’s not a bad thing, but maybe people don’t want to go back to the quaint little, narrow-passaged stores anymore.

One of the big chain of stores that I have frequented is Crossword. They have 50 stores spread over 11 cities in India, including Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, New Delhi and others. Crossword was the brainchild of R Sriram, an entrepreneur whose dream lay in coming up with the best bookstore the country has seen. He has however now moved away and onto other things, but the chain continues to operate successfully throughout the country.

Shelves designed to be no more than five feet tall, classic library couches to sit down and browse, shelf talkers – all add to the store in terms of the ambiance and appeal.

However, some of the things I have found on my many visits to different Crossword outlets is that many a time, the staff don’t know what you’re talking about when you ask for something. And, the collection of books qualifies as OK, not the best in the world.

Well, next up, we’ll take a look at some of the other big chains in the country, and some small stores that have continued to do exceedingly well.

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Discussion

  1. Marguerite

    Ever been to Giggles in Madras? Got to be my favorite… oddly-named, zillions of books packed into a tiny room in a hotel, very knowledgable proprietor… my husband’s favorite is Higginbotham’s, though. Speaking of Victorian buildings. And, of course, Landmark (which I’m sure you’ll get to next time) is increasing its share of our business whenever we get over there…

  2. shankar

    that reminds me of the premier bookstore – at the end of church street in bangalore- the shop was piled with books from the floor to the roof and it was an adventure going into the shop and coming out without being hit by an avalanche of books-
    in spite of the huge collection- it was intriguing that the owner
    ( I think his name was Shanbaug)- would instantly get you the book you want! There were no couches to browse books – but premier had big die hard customer following. I understand that premier too has hit dust– good observation about all these small shops cosing down- sets one pondering- is it the lack of interest in books- or have property prices gone thru the roof making such shops financially unviable?

  3. Chandrika

    Book lovers in Mumbai might want to check out this wonderful new bookstore at Fort near Akbarally’s but on the main road by the name of Kitab Khana. Its situated in a heritage building and surprisingly manages to retain that character through out the store and its quaint cafe! What a store! Full of books, polished wood, wrought iron pillars (I was told its a 150 year old building) and soft leather chairs! A wonderful selection of regional books and some very different children’s books too. Must visit the cafe – aptly called ‘Food for thought’ – and the store both! I’m predicting that most of my free time shall be invested in exploring those lovely shelves of books with a cuppa hot chocolate!!
    Although its just 2 days old, and will go through the hiccups that all new stores go through, the staff is very courteous and helpful. The selection of books, while great, can be put in better order for an easier browsing experience.

    1. Rachna

      Hi Chandrika, many thanks for the info on Kitab Khana. Lovely place, peaceful too. Super collection of books; helpful people. Just where you can go day after day after day without getting bored! N good food!

  4. Owen Berkeley-Hill

    Strand Book Stall seems to be below the radar of the bookworms in Mumbai. As the name implies it started life in the foyer of the now derelict Strand Cinema over fifty years ago and still seems to be going quietly about its business just off PM Road in the Fort area.
    My father was an avid reader and researcher and spent a fair amount of time at the Sassoon and University libraries, but I believe the Strand was his favourite as they were able to get him just about anything he wanted, and believe me his interests were wide ranging.
    My visits to the shop are infrequent and mainly nostalgic, as I no longer live here, but in England. Every inch of floorspace and shelving is crammed with books, and I have yet to work out how they organise their stock, but that is part of the charm. They do not mind you browsing and although it does not have the ambiance of a Borders or Kitab Khanna (which I came across yesterday) it should be regarded as one of Mumbai’s seriously important assets.

    1. Rachna

      Hi there; since you’ve mentioned you stay at England I’m not sure whether you actually visited Kitab Khana or not. If you liked Strand, you’ll fall in love with this bookstore housed in a heritage building. They’ve managed to get me every book I’ve asked for so far as well.

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