A store that’s new and old at the same time

Published: April 7, 2013
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Mr Old Books Collection in Boat Basin opened its doors to the city’s book lovers three months ago. It also has a branch in Khadda Market. The orange shelves are lined with not only classics from Western literature but also the work of heavyweights from Urdu literature. PHOTO: AYESHA MIR/EXPRESS

Mr Old Books Collection in Boat Basin opened its doors to the city’s book lovers three months ago. It also has a branch in Khadda Market. The orange shelves are lined with not only classics from Western literature but also the work of heavyweights from Urdu literature. PHOTO: AYESHA MIR/EXPRESS

KARACHI: 

In a time when bookstores are fast vanishing from the cityscape, Old Books Collection at Boat Basin is nothing less than a treat for a bookworm’s sore eyes.

The owners of this three-month-old store, the Siddiqui brothers are optimistic about their literary venture even though Mr Old Books, its former neighbour and a haunt for many booklovers, has packed up. “Business will be good,” predicted Ali Siddiqui, one of the owners of the store.

The shop is run by four brothers and is a branch of Old Books Collection at Khadda Market. The Siddiqui brothers seemed to have tapped the business of the now wrapped-up Mr Old Books, which held the monopoly of cheap books in neighbourhood.

Well-stocked and not even close to being overpriced, the store has a decent collection of Urdu books apart from offering the very essentials of Western literature. As you enter, you’re greeted by a psychedelic hardcover of Iqbal’s poetry collection and a few steps down, stalwarts of Urdu literature such as Manto, Mumtaz Mufti, Amrita Preetam and Krishan Chandar peer down at you from the shelves. The brothers also seem to have synched their collection to customers’ interests in current affairs – books on the history and politics of Balochistan also line the shelves.

What makes the store stand out, however, is its interior. The shelves are a Penguin Book shade of orange, transporting the customer to a vintage era. The creativity does not end here: the store also has a red carpeted staircase which leads to the children’s section on the upper level. The place’s glass entrance gives it a through-and-through look of a bookstore when you drive past it at night time.

“The store always had the staircase,” said Ali when asked whether they were the masterminds behind the unique feature. “We did the rest of the designing.” The owners are not just conscious about the way their shop looks, but also the material it has to offer the customers. The brothers constantly spoke about books that need to be brought in, whether its Stephanie Meyer’s ‘The Host’ or a children’s book. They are wary of the intense competition they may face from other, bigger stores such as Liberty Books. Unlike most owners of ‘old books’ stores, these entrepreneurs are well-versed in authors and titles. When asked for a book by Albert Camus, the owner instantaneously said: “We only have ‘The Stranger’ and ‘The Plague’ for now, but we can order another title for you.”

The shopkeepers note down requests for books along with the customers’ number. They then try to search for the books at either Khori Garden or containers packed with books which arrive from abroad, most of which come from the UK after “libraries [there] are emptied out.”

When asked about whether they have an online database, Ali’s brother said, “It’s in the pipeline. As for now, developing and maintaining a website is a financial burden which we cannot afford.”

While fielding questions from The Express Tribune, Ali was busy arranging books on various shelves and reminded his brother which ones need to be ordered. When asked whether he reads himself, he said, “I do read when I get the time. But this job barely gives us the time to catch up on reading.” It may take some more time for the store to build its collection, but it is getting there, book by book, order by order, consignment by consignment.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 7th, 2013. 

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