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The Years when Bookstores Dotted the Island
The emergence of e-books has not only created tremendous competitive pressure on the print books, they have also marked an epoch in the continuing struggle of survival of the physical bookstores. It is the same story elsewhere as the bookstore industry continues to face tough times worldwide. In Taiwan’s famous “Book Street” (书店街) on Chongqing South Road (重庆南路), with the majority of the bookstores going out of business, the heyday when more than a hundred bookstores and publishing companies lined the road is truly over.

Incidentally, do you know that Singapore was once the core of the bookstore and publishing industry in Southeast Asia? In her article The Years when Bookstores Dotted the Island in the 8 May 2014 issue of Lianhe Zaobao, writer Teoh Hee La (张曦娜) took us back to the period between the 1950s and 1970s, a time when Singapore’s bookstore industry was at its peak. Back then, there were at least 230 Chinese bookstores on the island with the majority of them located in the areas around the Singapore River – known by the locals as Da Po (大坡) and Xiao Po (小坡). Beyond this centralised area, bookstores were also located all over Singapore in places like Beach Road, Tanjong Katong, Bukit Timah, Jalan Besar, Changi Road, and Jurong.

In support of the National Library Board’s Singapore Memory Project, Chou Sing Chu Foundation has embarked on the “irememberBookstores” memory collection campaigns to collect the public’s memories of the bookstores in Singapore. Bookstores are an important vessel for passing on the cultural identity and heritage that the past generations had worked hard for. Therefore, the “irememberBookstores” campaigns are not just a project to celebrate Singapore’s golden jubilee, we aim to create a treasure vault of memories of the local bookstore industry for the younger generations whilst paying tribute to the veterans in this century old bookstore industry.

Since July 2015, Chou Sing Chu Foundation has been bringing the stories of the bookstore industry in Singapore to various public libraries in a roving exhibition called the “I Remember Gallery”. We welcome you to join us on a nostalgic journey of the little known details of Singapore’s book trade.

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