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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

death of neighborhood bookshops

The bookshop in Sillim-dong was being closed in early June 2002. (c) AL 2002

It took no more than a week before there was a new occupant in the shop. (c) AL 2002
Hankyoreh features a bookshop keeper who after 27 years of keeping a shop in Yaksu-dong cannot feel having done any contribution to culture, only remorse (huhoe) after all those years of toil which have only piled debt on him. The dire economic conditions of small bookstores and their increasingly decreasing number has been an issue already in the 1990s even before the economic crisis and the appearance of internet bookshops, but since the end of 1990s the business of small bookshops has really collapsed. From close to 5400 in 1996 the number of bookshops has dropped to 2200 in 2003. One of these was a shop in Sillim 2-dong whose keeper I acquainted to some degree. The shop has the same as the one in the Hankyoreh article, except for the word for bookshop (sôjôm vs. mun'go). They surely wouldn't have survived even that long hadn't they been the owners of the house with three other shop spaces. At one stage when they couldn't find anyone to rent one of the shops, they themselves kept a "dance room", which the man told seemed to be a better business than the bookshop.
In Yaksu-dong where Hyôndae Mun'go is there were eight bookshops in the late 1980s, but at the moment only three are left. Where bookshops used to be are now chicken places, eateries (punsik) and clothing shops. The bookshops that are left survive by selling reference books (?, ch'amgosô. "Earlier I used to recommend good new books for regulars, and could spend hours just debating. Just seeing schoolkids after classes browsing books without buying anything gave me such a good feeling, but now those feelings have disappeared from my business."

Hankyoreh is surely in a morally correct position in proposing that a policy for the survival of small neighborhood bookshops is urgent, but for all my sympathy for the small businesskeepers of all kinds, I can't see how the shops can be saved in any large scale with the present preferences of customers. What the representative of the bookshop association can appeal to are the concepts of neighborhood (tongne) and local society / community (chiyôk sahoe), in which the small bookshops can allegedly pay an important role as "cells of local culture."

What did I by from Mr Kim's bookshop in Sillim-dong? Magazines every now and then, perhaps one children's book to give as a present. The first book for myself from the shop I received for free when the woman of the keeper wanted to give one as present. There wasn't much that I was interested in, but I took a collection of essays by Ma Kwang-su.

The neighborhood bookshop article is part of the series "The Self-employed are Collapsing" (무너지는 자영업자), of which the following pieces have also appeared:
"Baking bread only once a day and yet can't sell it all".)
"Hair designer pride" in peril in price competition

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Comments to note "death of neighborhood bookshops" (Comments to posts older than 14 days are moderated)

<Blogger Yankabroad> said on 4.12.05 : 

That's too bad.

Part of the problem is Koreans don't really read.

Not that much, anyhow.


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