The end: Indie bookstore turns its last page

Booktique owner Anthony Koh Waugh (right) and illustrator Chen Yi Xi with the latter's sketches. The store's final event will be the launch of Mr Chen's art book Xi The World and an exhibition of his works.
Booktique owner Anthony Koh Waugh (right) and illustrator Chen Yi Xi with the latter's sketches. The store's final event will be the launch of Mr Chen's art book Xi The World and an exhibition of his works.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

"We waited for Ragnarok in a bookstore," reads a framed, typewritten poem in indie 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 it is a Ragnarok of sorts for four-year-old Booktique, which will shutter at CityLink Mall after June 29.

Owner Anthony Koh Waugh, 44, said 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 other 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 said.

Singapore's book industry has been squeezed by higher rents and falling readership, with a flurry of bookstore closures in recent years, from major player Borders in 2011 to smaller shops such Prologue in 2013 and Sunny Bookshop in 2014.

Mr Koh, a former freelance writer, plans to take a three-month break, after which he will return to his early days as a pop-up bookseller. He was inspired to open Booktique in 2013 after reading Start Something That Matters by US entrepreneur Blake Mycoskie.

He bought a thousand books and lugged them to cafes to sell.

In 2014, he spent at least $10,000 opening a pop-up at The Cathay mall and, three months later, set up shop in CityLink for 21/2 times that sum. Nearly a year later, he made the store permanent.

  • XI THE WORLD: BOOK LAUNCH

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

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

    ADMISSION: Free

    INFO: www.facebook.com/WriterBooktique

 

He was adamant from the start about how he wanted Booktique to be run: 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 said. "But I'm not asking for sympathy... 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 whenever he has a stopover in Singapore.

"It's a shame it's closing," said the Briton.

Singapore Institute of Management student Amanda Kwek, 20, is not surprised. "I feel it's a pity, but it's inevitable because so many people prefer reading PDFs now."

Illustrator Chen Yi Xi, 26, son of veteran actors Edmund Chen and Xiang Yun, likes to browse Booktique's unusual titles.

Serendipitously, the launch of Mr Chen's art book Xi The World on June 24 will be the store's final event. It is a series of sketches, many capturing bygone scenes from Caldecott Hill where he grew up and worked as a personal assistant to his mother on set last year.

"These are memorable spaces in time," he said. "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."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2017, with the headline 'The end: Indie bookstore turns its last page'. Print Edition | Subscribe