Union Book Co is a retail book store established in 1952, specializing in Chinese books. It keeps an extensive collection of Chinese books covering a myriad of subject areas, with titles hailing from Taiwan, China, Hong Kong and Malaysia, and even local authors. In the 1980s, Union book store moved to its current location at Bras Basah Complex from North Bridge Road, and has maintained its presence at Bras Basah for the past 30 over years.
Speaking with Chia Wei, the bookstore manager, he shared with me some of his memories of Union Book Store. In 2005, Chia Wei chose to join Union due to his passion and interest in reading Chinese books. But even before that, as a teenager, he frequented Union to browse through its vast collection of books.
In the past, there were many Chinese readers, and as a result, the book store was often a hive of activity. Many avid readers stood around the shop floor, with a book in hand, poring through the many pages. Business was brisk back in its heydays.
However, this stood in stark contrast to the quiet scene that greeted me on a late Saturday morning. With only a few customers walking through the aisles of books, I could imagine what a sight it had been back in those days, when visiting a book store and spending an afternoon there was considered a past time. For today’s young generation, with the plethora of gadgets at our finger tips and a desire for more mentally stimulating activities, reading has taken the backseat.
This trend explains the shrinking customer base of Union Book Store, which has since stagnated at the older generation. Coupled with the rise of digital books and the decline of traditional reading, these dual challenges have placed pressure on Union’s retail sales. Nonetheless, Union is attempting to change with the time and efforts are made to update its current business model. For instance, Union has ventured into online sales into recent years, and while it has not been hugely successful, they have been able to export books to other countries, some as far off as Canada.
Despite these expected changes, I believe that Union Book Store will remain true to its roots as a Chinese books retailer, and will continue to serve as a platform for local authors to showcase their works.