The end: Indie bookstore turns its last page

Chen Yi Xi Art (Indie bookstore Booktique in CityLink Mall to close)

You are reading The Straits Time Article: The end: Indie bookstore turns its last page by Olivia Ho

SINGAPORE - "We waited for Ragnarok in a bookstore," reads a framed, typewritten poem in local independent bookshop Booktique - Where Writers Shop. "And clutched the spines of our weapons in hope/That they would save our souls."

Ragnarok, in Norse mythology, refers to the end of days. And indeed, it is a Ragnarok of sorts for four-year-old Booktique, which will shutter after June 29.

The CityLink Mall shop is known for its minimalist wooden crate furniture, niche selection and diverse events from migrant worker poetry readings to violin recitals.

Owner Anthony Koh Waugh, 44, says these final days have been mostly "filled with relief". The store was badly hit by the retail slump and has struggled to pay its rent and bills since November 2015.

"We have been able to sustain this for so long only because of the efforts of the community, who have helped me no matter how many times I asked," he says. "People have believed in what I do."

He started Booktique as a pop-up in 2013 and later expanded it to a permanent store.

The store's final event will be the launch of an art book and an exhibition by illustrator Chen Yi Xi, 26, the son of veteran actors Edmund Chen and Xiang Yun. His book, Xi The World, is a series of ink and watercolour sketches, many of which capture bygone scenes from Caldecott Hill, where he grew up and worked as a personal assistant to his mother on set last year.

It is serendipitous for Mr Koh, whose first job was also on the now-defunct Hill, doing marketing for the then Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (now Mediacorp).

After Booktique's closure, he plans to take a break for at least three months and recoup his energy and finances for his next venture, for which he will return to his early days as a pop-up bookseller.

The former freelance writer was inspired to open Booktique after reading the book Start Something That Matters by American entrepreneur Blake Mycoskie.

He dreamt of having his own bookshop in the vein of 66-year-old Parisian bookstore Shakespeare And Company, whose late founder George Whitman's ethos was "Give what you can; take what you need".

Mr Koh bought 1,000 books and lugged them to cafes to sell, even holding a Christmas book fair in the Armenian Church. After many failed attempts to contact the church through phone or e-mail, he printed his e-mail and dropped them in the donation box along with $2. It worked; the church got back to him.

In 2014, he spent at least $10,000 on opening a pop-up at the Cathay mall and three months later, set up shop in CityLink for two and a half times that sum. Nearly a year later, he made the store permanent.

He has been adamant from the start about how he wanted Booktique to be run, even if it was to its financial detriment. He would not bring in the bestsellers that populate mainstream stores. He would not sell stationery. He would not have an online store, because he prizes human interaction.

"People scolded me, saying 'If you are stubborn, nobody will pity you,'" he says. "But I'm not asking for sympathy. If I wanted to make money, I would have opened a fashion boutique. But I want to sell books to promote humanity."

The bookstore has become a sanctuary for customers such as British Airways pilot Michael Skelhorn, 57, who visits Booktique whenever he has a stopover in Singapore. "It's a shame it's closing," says the Briton. "I like the layout, but I guess it is not very visible from outside."

Singapore Institute of Management student Amanda Kwek, 20, who visited the store for the first time last week, was not surprised at the news.

"I feel it's a pity, but it's inevitable because so many people prefer reading PDFs nowadays."

One of Booktique's customers was Chen, who liked to come in and browse because the titles were unusual. He even brought his parents to the store.

He befriended Mr Koh over a shared fascination with nostalgia and the preservation of history, which drove him to work on his book during Caldecott Hill's impending closure. "These are memorable spaces in time," he says. "I want to share them with people."

Although Booktique has practically cleaned out Mr Koh's savings, he says he regrets nothing. "I am determined to continue selling books until I am old."

•Xi The World (Asiatainment) can be pre-ordered for $14 through Booktique. It will be sold later at $16.


WHERE: Booktique, B1-17A, CityLink Mall, 1 Raffles Link

WHEN: June 24, 3.30pm. Exhibition will be open from 4 to 10pm and 3 to 8pm on June 25.




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