Former Booktique owner makes comeback with chill new pop-up Chio Books

Mr Anthony Koh Waugh has returned with a new pop-up concept, Chio Books.
Mr Anthony Koh Waugh has returned with a new pop-up concept, Chio Books.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - In the midst of a pandemic that has dealt brick-and-mortar retail a blow and driven bookstores online, the last thing most people would attempt is to start selling books in a mall.

Bookseller Anthony Koh Waugh, however, rarely does what people expect of him.

Three years after the closure of his CityLink Mall bookstore Booktique - Where Writers Shop, he has returned with a new pop-up concept, Chio Books.

It opened in Beach Road mall City Gate, near Golden Mile Complex and arthouse cinema The Projector, on Tuesday (Dec 15) and will run for three months until next February.

Mr Koh, 47, says he hopes Chio Books - its name is a pun on "chio bu", Hokkien for "pretty girl" - will attract not just converted readers but also people who do not typically read books to begin with.

Chio Books, a dim space lit by the pulsing neon glow of LED furniture, has the vibe of a chill after-hours bar. Bubblegum pink and cool mint-toned posters of models holding books adorn the walls.

While the shop's 180 titles include what Mr Koh terms "literary" books - among them this year's Epigram Books Fiction Prize-winning novel How The Man In Green Saved Pahang, And Possibly The World by Joshua Kam - its stock tends largely towards eclectic lifestyle reads.

Books on display include mortician Caitlin Doughty's intriguingly titled Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? And Other Questions About Dead Bodies (2019).

The space was originally intended to be a food-and-beverage outlet and comes equipped with sinks, although these have since been repurposed to display books like Reckless Daughter (2017), a biography of singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell.

The pandemic has not been kind to physical bookstores. Earlier this year, indie stalwart BooksActually shut its Tiong Bahru space to move wholly online; other brick-and-mortar booksellers say they have struggled.

"I am apprehensive," admits Mr Koh. "This mall has very little foot traffic and there are a lot of unoccupied units."

City Gate, a mixed-used development on the fringe of Kampong Glam, is a world away from Booktique's former location in CityLink, a bustling stretch frequented by MRT commuters and the office crowd - though this was not enough to save the store, which shut in 2017 after a protracted struggle with rent and bills.

"Sometimes traffic is overrated," says Mr Koh.

He estimates that he spent $4,000 on the new pop-up, not including rental, which he declines to reveal.

In the past three years, he has run mostly pop-up book fairs and does not intend to settle down.

"I really don't want to start a physical store any more," he says. "This is something new and hopefully we'll get different kinds of collaborations.

"If we can bring our books to a nightclub or a pub, that would be great."

He has kept some things from Booktique though, like his old cash register, which he was trying to refamiliarise himself with when The Straits Times visited on a rainy afternoon.

"I've always liked to challenge myself," he says. "Let's see if this experiment works."

WHERE: Chio Books, City Gate, 371 Beach Road, 01-37

MRT: Nicoll Highway

WHEN: Till Feb 15, 2021, noon to 9pm daily except public holidays and eves of public holidays, dinner break from 5 to 6pm

INFO: Booktique Where Writers Shop's Facebook page or Chio Books' Instagram page