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.