Small bookstores rely on friendly faces

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Small bookstores rely on friendly faces


The era of paper appears to be waning amid the rise of computers. But online libraries have yet to replicate the face-to-face human contact of small, specialized bookstores. Warm greetings, friendly communication and human interaction between customers and clerks make them into friends.
Art ’n Dream, which specializes in photography and visual design books, is one such holdout of the paper age. Half of its first level is filled with books from floor to the ceiling, while wall-size windows on the other half lets in natural light so that people don’t feel they are imprisoned by books.
“Thanks to our location and the type of books we sell, enough people check out what we are about, so we manage to pay our high rent,” said Kim Hee-seon, a clerk of Art ’n Dream. Although the store also maintains an online shop, it’s just a reference for customers who want news about the latest new books. The bookshop is located on “design street” in Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul, where a number of design, advertising and film production companies are clustered.
The owner, Kim Hong-seon, imported design and photography books for over 20 years and decided to open a bookshop in 2001. Although visual design books are abundant, the store lacks books about the fine arts, Ms. Kim confessed. She reads most of the books displayed in the shop so that she can choose the right book for her customers. “People come to get one ― only one ― idea, so I should be ready to answer their questions.”

Customers greet Ms. Kim like an old friend. “Any new books on exhibitions that I haven’t read yet?” asked a patron. Ms. Kim named a few without hesitating.
Art ’n Dream also has a gallery in the basement ― it opened in November for designers who wanted to exhibit their works.
A similar bookstore, specializing in architecture and interior design, is Simji, located in Nonhyeon-dong, southern Seoul. Its first floor has a modern, neat and colorful interior, while its second floor is called “Sarangbang,” for visitors who want to take time to read or study while drinking a cup of the free tea or coffee.
“Well, even though we’re a bit concerned that people might spill drinks on the books, customers themselves are really cautious and no serious damage has occurred yet,” said Park Gi-woon, a clerk.
A great music bookstore is the Daihan Music Company, located in Myeong-dong, central Seoul. In business for over 50 years, it has virtually every musical score one could want. Although rather jumbled due to an ongoing renovation, which is scheduled to end in two months, the clerks were calm and friendly. A student was looking for an imported scorebook, but the clerk offered a cheaper domestically made version. “Students don’t have money, so if there is a cheaper one, we usually recommend it to them,” he said.
Such human sentiment is probably what keeps these small bookstores alive despite the digital tsunami washing over the world.

by Park Sung-ha

Art ’n Dream opens from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Call (02) 512-8909. Simji opens from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Call (02) 543-3476. Daihan Music Company opens from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Call (02) 776-0577.
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