Taiwan's Eslite makes its debut in Suzhou

Taiwan's Eslite Bookstore recently opened its first branch on the mainland, in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, going against a trend where physical bookstores are shutting down.

However, what Eslite has built in Suzhou is not only a bookstore but also a shopping complex, on either side of which are houses and apartments that Eslite has co-developed with Mitsubishi Estate. The prices of the houses range from 35,000 yuan ($5,500) per square meter to 75,000 yuan per sq m.

The bookstore, covering 15,000 sq m, takes up less than one-fourth of the total 56,000 sq m available on four floors of the building.

Designed by Taiwan architect Kris Yao, the Suzhou store has the Eslite touch.

The spacious bookstore is filled with books and cultural and creative products.

But unlike the store in Taipei, the Suzhou one will not be open 24 hours.

It has about 150,000 titles - 100,000 titles in simplified Chinese and about 50,000 imported titles.

Readers can also choose from among 200 titles recommended by Eslite.

The books are divided into five sections: tourism, lifestyle, art, humanities and Western literature. In the lifestyle section, a real kitchen has been built beside the culinary books.

Every week, there are also culinary activities at the store. Readers can also buy tea sets beside books related to tea.

The rest of the building has shops selling clothing, accessories and cultural and creative products, as well as restaurants.

"Please don't simplify physical bookstores. Please don't see Eslite simply as a bookstore," Wu Qing-you, the founder of Eslite, said at the launch ceremony.

Wu opened his first Eslite Bookstore in Taipei in 1989, focusing on humanities and art books.

Stores now also contain galleries and spaces for other art forms.

Over the years, the bookstore has hosted many activities with local writers and literary critics, gradually becoming an influential venue for cultural communication.

Every month, Eslite recommends two Chinese books and two foreign books to readers.

All these attract attention from readers not only in Taiwan but also in Hong Kong and on the mainland.

Eslite Bookstore is now also a tourist must-see.

But despite his efforts, Wu says that Eslite suffered an annual loss of 4 million yuan for 15 consecutive years until 2004.

Over the years, Wu has tried various ways to prevent Eslite from closing.

In 2010, Eslite became "Eslite life", "a platform for daily life, and cultural and creative products".

Meanwhile, the first floor of the building, which is underground, is designed like a local Suzhou market.

Along the main "avenue" are more than 20 shops for local snacks, drinks and accessories.

Eslite also has a space to exhibit local intangible cultural heritage, including embroidery, fruit-pit carving and fans.

"We want to enable cultural communication between the mainland and Taiwan," says Wu.

Cultural activities are key to Eslite.

Choreographer Lin Hwai-min has a dancing classroom on the fourth floor and artist Cao Guo-qiang's Day and Night is also on display.

In December, writers and literary critics from the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan, including Bi Feiyu, Luo Yijun and Michael Liu, will have lectures and readings in Suzhou.

Eslite will open stores in Shanghai in March 2016 and in Shenzhen in 2018.

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