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Start of a fresh, new chapter

By Zhang Kun in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2023-11-03 07:55

Shanghai Book Mall reopens on Oct 28 after a two-year refurbishment project. [Photo by Gao Erqiang/China Daily]

Shanghai Book Mall, arguably the largest bookstore in the city, celebrated its reopening on Saturday, after a refurbishment project that kept it closed for two years.

The seven-story building is home to half a million books, according to Niu Yefang, president of the Shanghai Xinhua Media Co., the parent company of the bookstore.

"My parents used to bring me to the book mall and let me pick the books that I wanted when I was a kid, so I decided to bring my own daughter and hope she can find the same joy of reading like I did," one customer said, as she browsed through the picture books section on the fourth floor with her 5-year-old daughter on the first day of business at the newly refurbished bookstore.

Shanghai Book Mall, located on downtown's Fuzhou Road, is not just a brick-and-mortar bookstore, but is closely connected to the memories of local residents, and of great significance to the cultural life of the city, Niu told the media during a preview a day before the reopening.

Fuzhou Road was one of the four main roads in downtown Shanghai leading to the Huangpu River when the city firstly opened up as an international harbor some 180 years ago. From the 1840s onward, it was dotted with bookstores and publishing houses. It is known as the "street of culture".

Shanghai Book Mall reopens on Oct 28 after a two-year refurbishment project. [Photo by Gao Erqiang/China Daily]

One of the top 10 cultural landmark projects in Shanghai, the Book Mall opened at No 456 Fuzhou Road on Dec 30, 1998. The building covered a ground area of 3,713 square meters and, while the bookstore occupied the seven bottom stories, the floors above were occupied by the offices of the Shanghai Century Publishing Group Co.

By 2021, the publishing house had moved to a new publishers' park in the suburban Qibao town in Minhang district, where it was provided with larger offices and new facilities. That same year, on Oct 19, the whole building was shuttered for refurbishment.

"It has been two long years, and the people of Shanghai have looked forward to the return of their favorite bookstore," Niu says. A bookstore is different from any other business, he says. "You might come across a book, or simply a paragraph in a book, that changes your life forever. I don't believe any other business is capable of having such a great impact."

Inspired by the metaphor for books as "the lighthouse for one's life", Yu Ting, chief architect of the makeover project designed the new facade to look like the pages of a book, which will light up brightly in the evening.

He also made sure to retain people's memories of the original building. A relief on the original facade had a Chinese proverb that read, "diligence is the path up the mountain of knowledge" in several different languages. That wall was partly preserved and erected in the ground floor lobby. A column in the original building was also preserved on the second floor.

"I hope visitors who come across it as they stroll through the bookshelves will be happily surprised," Niu says.

Shanghai Book Mall reopens on Oct 28 after a two-year refurbishment project. [Photo by Gao Erqiang/China Daily]

The book retail business has gone through drastic changes since the opening of Shanghai Book Mall in 1998. At that time, it was known as one of the largest centers for the publication, distribution and retail of books not only in China, but also in the whole of the Far East.

The book mall covered a business area of more than 10,000 sq m, is said to have housed so many titles that the number was equivalent to that of the total number of books published in China over a two-year period.

"You could find a lot of books that are not available in other bookstores," Niu recalls. The large mall, unprecedented in China at the time, equipped with the latest computerized search system changed the widely accepted national perception of bookstores, which were usually street-side shops of about 100 sq m. "Quite a few other cities followed suit and built their own large-scale bookstores with similar structures and business models as Shanghai Book Mall."

Now that the internet has fundamentally changed people's reading habits and book-buying behavior, brick-and-mortar bookstores are in urgent need of making changes.

Niu believes an important mission of the bookstore is to initiate new connections between books and readers, through interpersonal communications and in-person events.

As part of the refurbishment, the architect had part of the ceilings on the third and fifth floor removed to open up two vertical halls that can host chamber concerts, mini-theater performances and other events. The high open halls also invite natural light into the mall.

The Writer's Study on the second floor was designed to bring writers closer to readers. Every three months a new writer will be featured in this section, where their creations are showcased alongside a selection of books that either have given them inspiration, or they have enjoyed reading and want to share with others. Reading events and book launches will also be held there.

On the seventh floor, a new Shanghai Illustration Art Center has opened with the inaugural exhibition named Hello, Shanghai, featuring work by Norwegian illustrators Mari Kanstad Johnsen, Bjorn Rune Lie, and Kristin Roskifte, who participated in a 17-day artists' residency program organized by Magikon Publishing from Norway and Shanghai International Children's Book Fair in 2019.

During their stay, the three artists immersed themselves, as keen observers, into Shanghai, uncovering its distinctive allure and documenting their experiences.

Being exhibited are paintings showing their perception of Shanghai as a global metropolis, as well as a hub of diverse cultures in an ever-evolving world.

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