Rainy day fun: Browse through 2 million books“Meet you in front of Jongno Bookstore at 6 p.m.”
In the times before modern conveniences like cell phones, this one sentence served as a perfect rendezvous ― at least until last July. Jongno Bookstore, the first large establishment of its kind and a landmark of the capital city, went bankrupt. The building has now become a cram school for the bar exam. Below ground is a nightclub, whose front door decoration, plastic sculptures of monsters from the movie “Alien,” is just a bit eerie.
Jongno’s demise was not due to some sudden drop in Koreans’ enthusiasm for books made of tangible paper in the face of competition from online technology. More likely, old-fashioned store competition did it in. Most of Seoul’s other giant bookstores appear to be thriving. Every new outlet prides itself on being the biggest around.
Such is the case for Kyobo Book Centre’s new 2-million volume south-of-the-river branch, in the Gangnam district. The original branch in Gwang-hwamun, north Seoul, which opened in 1981, holds about 2.3 million books. It is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, except for the Solar and Lunar New Year’s Days and Chuseok holiday. To get there, take subway line No. 5 to the Gwanghwamun Station, from which you can enter the bookstore directly.
The Youngpoong Bookstore is also in Jongno, within walking distance of Kyobo’s Gwanghwamun branch. Launched in 1992, Youngpoong’s Jongno store reports having 1.7 million books. It is open from 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., and is best reached from the Jonggak station on subway line No. 1.
Youngpoong has a new branch in southern Seoul, with 1.3 million books on the shelves. It is in Central City, beneath the Marriott Hotel, and best reached from the Express Bus Terminal Station on subway lines No. 3 or 7.
While most bookstore chains got started north of the Han River, Bandi & Luni’s (formerly known as Seoul Bookstore) originated in the south and now has 2 million books. Located inside the COEX shopping mall, near the Samseong Station on subway line No. 2, it is open from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
Bandi & Luni’s boasts of being Seoul’s second-largest bookstore in area, just after the new Kyobo branch.
Bandi & Luni’s follows the American style of low shelves to be customer-friendly rather than the high-rise approach, said a store spokesman. Its name is derived from an ancient Chinese saying about a poor scholar studying at night by the light of fireflies.
by Chun Su-jin