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September 18, 2021

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New policies helpful to Beijing bookshops

AS a bibliophile, Li Suwan had long harbored a dream of running a bookshop. She realized that dream in 2018, beginning her career as a shopkeeper in downtown Beijing at the age of 36.

“Bookshops should serve as lively cultural spaces,” said Li, adding that she would like to see people stay awhile in her bookshop instead of hurrying off after making their purchases.

She packed 40 seats and square tables into the 200-square-meter bookshop, which she called MAZI, to make the place comfortable for reading and using a computer. She even purchased lamps that cost two times the amount she had budgeted as they provided softer light.

“Buying books is not the most important thing at MAZI — the most important thing is reading, as well as the exchange of interesting ideas here,” Li said.

However, this kind of business model was at first too idealistic.

Li’s store is located on the 2nd Ring Road in east downtown Beijing, and the expensive rent came as a blow. Her earnings could barely cover her expenses.

Li had to figure out ways to keep the bookshop going. Over the past few years, more than 270 cultural activities have been held in MAZI, including performances, film screenings and reading salons, and the earnings have helped the bookshop stay in business.

Many bricks-and-mortar bookshops — those opened in downtown areas in particular — have experienced great challenges due to high costs and the booming online bookshop sector. As a consequence, few private bookshops are able to sustain themselves in urban centers.

Beijing’s Dongcheng District recently rolled out a series of policies, including optimized services and financial assistance, to support bricks-and-mortar bookshops and alleviate the problems they face, according to Xue Hongfeng, deputy director of the district’s publicity department.

The policies also encourage the owners of vacant spaces such as old factories to open new bookshops, Xue added.

Bookshops that can play positive social roles, generate good cultural influence and gain customer satisfaction can be awarded up to 1 million yuan (US$154,000), according to the new policies.

The policies have been well-received among bookshop owners.

“We are glad to know that the new policies will not only offer us rent subsidies, but also provide better venues for the bookshops,” Li said.

“Moreover, the process for bookshops to hold cultural activities will soon be streamlined, meaning we can spend more time focusing on creative planning and better service.”




 

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