Bookshops are hip as retro returns

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Bookshops are hip as retro returns


At Book & Pub, an independent book store near Ewha Womans University, western Seoul, the owner and visitors talk at a book meeting. [BOOK & PUB]

Young people are increasingly drawn to places that remind them of days gone by.

For many Koreans in their 20s and 30s, book stores are the newest old thing.

Storage Book & Film, a neighborhood book store in Haebangchon, Yongsan District, central Seoul, is situated on a steep hill. Upon entering the 20-square-meter (215-square-foot) space, a visitor is met by cute knickknacks, stationery and eco bags.

It is an independent book store and features works published by individuals and communities rather than by large publishing houses.

“Coming here was a fresh experience as I can feel the unique atmosphere that cannot be felt in huge book store chains,” said Jeon Hye-yoon, a 29-year-old office worker.

Research shows that the search for the old is now a trend. According to Shinhan Card data, independent book shops are one type of establishment where visitor numbers are increasing. Cardholders visited these businesses 50,000 times last year, up from 13,000 in 2014.

Over the same period, visits to large book stores declined 1.3 percent.

“Younger people mostly want fresh and unique experiences that set them apart from others,” said Shinhan data team leader Namgoong Sul. “It seems they are accepting independent book stores as special spaces, as they can enjoy the unusual atmosphere.”

Shinhan Card further breaks down the numbers. About eight out of ten customers are in their 20s to 30s, while the number of women visitors in their 20s jumped 453 percent over the last four years.

The independent book store business is a diverse business. Some places sell unique books. Others are open for events, such as public readings by featured authors.

“We invite the writer of a book or open classes related to music or wine,” said Kim Jong-hyeon, 36, who runs Book & Pub, a book store near Ewha Womans University in Seodaemun District, western Seoul.

“Participants are highly satisfied. Visitors are mostly in their 20s to 30s, so they can communicate based on similar interest.”

According to Shinhan Card, the number of independent book stores totals 196 nationwide. Six or seven years ago, the number was less than 20.

“Lately, the number of book cafes that sell coffee or dessert is on the rise,” said Namgoong. “These book cafes are catching the interest of women in their 20s who are familiar with cafe culture and sensitive to trends.”

Monochrome photo studios are attracting young customers with their retro vibes.

At these places, a photographer takes a photo with a film camera and prints a black-and-white photo in the darkroom. According to Shinhan Card analysis, one out of three users of major black-and-white photo studios nationwide were women in their twenties. Many young women take black-and-white pictures wearing their old school uniforms at famous tourist spots and share these photos on social media like Instagram.

According to Shinhan Card, an increasing number of the young people are setting foot in natural wine bars around Itaewon-dong in central Seoul or Hongdae in western Seoul. These places offer wine without chemical additives.

“For digital generations, taking pictures devoid of color is accepted as a new pastime,” said Lee Jung-hee, economics professor at Chung-Ang University. “The vintage trend that interprets old stuff in a modern way is capturing the spending habits of the rising generation.”

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