It used to be that directing one’s book buying business to a chain instead of an independent shop was considered downright traitorous (remember You’ve Got Mail?). How times have changed. Today, with formerly ubiquitous retail giants fallen or struggling alongside independents to survive the Amazon era, brick-and-mortar outposts of all stripes have become an endangered species.
Fortunately, bookstores large and small have much to offer which the dot-coms do not. Immediate satisfaction, for one; the luxury of actually browsing, for another; selections curated not by an algorithm but by an actual person; to name but a few, and for retail addicts still cultivating their love of books, the following bookstores supply bountiful opportunity to exercise shopping skills across many more categories than the stationary and pen displays of yore.
In this spirit, you will find a round up of leading English language bookstores – chain and independent alike – in Hong Kong.
In typical Hong Kong fashion, Basheer can be found in a non-descript building in Causeway Bay, down the hall from an unmarked elevator. No matter – true fans will not be easily deterred from this laser-focused (if slightly chaotic) hotbed of all things design. Professional-grade texts such as 30 Years of Swiss Typographic Discourse in the Typografische Monatsblätter (Lars Müller) can be found alongside Complex Packaging (Pepin), while for those of us whose design passions are strictly amateur, there is an impressive array of magazines. From the delightfully familiar interior design glossies, to niche favourites like MARK, FRAME, Concept, and Ottagono. Pristine, it is not, but what Basheer lacks in organisation it makes up for in heart. With titles like Creative Block: Get Unstuck, Discover New Ideas: Advice and Projects from 50 Successful Artists (Chronicle) and The Creative Professional’s Guide to Money (HOW), one has the sense that they are looking out for their customers in more ways than one.
Basheer, 1/F Flat A Island Building, 439-441 Hennessy Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, 2126 7533, www.basheer.com.hk
Established in 1985, Book-a-Zine boasts ten locations across Hong Kong, each offering a different shopping experience. The largest, in Prince’s Building, stocks more than 900 magazine titles and over 20,000 books in addition to a myriad of gifts, many of them eco-friendly. Conversely, the Lyndhurst Terrace location has space only for a narrow selection of bestsellers and a smattering of classics once one has navigated the maze of coasters, pens, magnets, calendars, stationery… you get the idea. With a healthy social media programme and frequent events – from puppet shows in the Kids Corner, to launches for local authors and signings for visiting ones – this chain is all about community engagement. And convenient, too: if you’re running errands, there is likely a Bookazine somewhere nearby.
Bookazine, Landmark Prince’s, Shop 309, Prince’s Building, 10 Chater Road, Central, 2522 1785, www.bookazine.com.hk
With nine locations across Hong Kong including stores on Lantau Island and in the New Territories, Dymocks is one of Hong Kong’s leading chains. It can be relied upon to check all of the boxes: a solid array of new releases—both international and regional – is augmented by offerings across key categories including the usual suspects (Travel, Cookery, Business) as well as Motivation, Spirituality, and even deeper intra-category cuts like “Food Writing by Chefs A-Z”. And unlike some other chains, Dymocks makes space for high-end, large-format books, carrying the niche publishers you know and love: Abrams, Gibbs and Smith, Phaidon, Prestel, Rizzoli, Stewart, Tabori and Chang, Taschen, Thames and Hudson… the list goes on. A thorough and welcoming Children’s section can be found alongside the usual assortment of gifts and knick-knacks with one welcome twist: cards by local Hong Kong artisans, proving that this chain is down-to-earth.
Dymocks, ifc mall, Shop 3002 – 3005, Level 3, 1 Harbour View Street, Hong Kong, 2489 8868, www.dymocks.com.hk
In 1989, a Taiwanese businessman decided to eschew corporate life to pursue his dream of opening a bookstore dedicated to the arts and humanities. Eslite opened in a small space outside of Taipei, championing creative pursuits and promoting what Wu called “a sophisticated, culturally diverse life”. Today, the Eslite brand encompasses not only of a chain of bookstores, but also an art gallery; a theatre and performance forum; a ‘Gourmet Group’ dealing in wine, foodstuffs, and professional kitchen equipment; to name just a few, all sharing the mantra to ‘bring good things to life’. The Hong Kong Eslite outpost is no exception: spanning three floors and more than 40,000 square feet of Hysan Place in Causeway Bay, the mega-store is a wonderland of printed offerings, offering hundreds of thousands of titles over one-third of which are English language.
From fashion to religion, interior design to photography, and with a dose of business and general trade titles in the mix, Eslite’s aisles upon aisles of titles will make a book-lover’s heart sing – and feet ache. Thankfully, the Tea Room café and a Caffe Habitu offer respite within the store. You’ll need the break, because once you’re through with the books on offer you won’t want to miss the many pop-up shops on hand offering handicrafts and design-related products, among them soaps, teas, jewellery, wine accessories, and leather-goods – the list goes on. And for the creative night owls among its clientele, Eslite remains open round-the-clock Thursday through Saturday.
Eslite, 8/F-10/F, Hysan Place, 500 Leighton Rd., Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, 3419 6789, www.eslitecorp.com
Kelly & Walsh
An 1876 merger of two Shanghai-based English language booksellers – Kelly and Co. and F. & C. Walsh – produced Kelly & Walsh, a prodigious publisher and retailer which relocated to Hong Kong in the 1950s. Since then, it has been a family owned and operated business, now on its third generation. Sister stores Swindon’s (TST) and Hong Kong Book Centre (Tai Koo) – both carrying academic as well as general reading – round out the group. Kelly & Walsh shines in the category of art and culinary publishing, possessing an impressive depth of selection in an intimate, boutique-feeling shop. From super chefs Gordon Ramsay and Ferran Adria (who will be hosted for a talk and signing at the Pacific Place shop later this month), to cult favourites like The Kinfolk Table, to seriously encyclopaedic tomes as Jancis Robinson’s World Atlas of Wine, K&W’s cookery section goes above and beyond.
Kelly & Walsh, Shop 204, L2 Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty, Hong Kong, 2522 7893, www.kellyandwalsh.com
Although Page One bills itself as a specialist in art and design titles – and does indeed hit the mark in these categories – it remarkably well-rounded. Beyond the entire wall dedicated to fashion tomes (equal parts instructive and entertaining) and the dedicated (if poorly lit) areas for viewing illustrated books, one finds solid supply of general fiction and non-fiction, including the very latest releases. In fact, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s not-yet-released Hard Choices (Simon & Schuster) was already on shelves; Amazon pre-orders will not be released until 10 June. Page One is also a publisher with an editorial team based in Singapore, which not only prints and distributes existing titles, but also acquires and develops its own projects, for the most part within the architecture and design category. A user-friendly My One membership rewards programme – with options for both adults and kids – offers discounts and perks for regular customers. Page One outposts can be found in Kowloon Tong, Harbour City, and Causeway Bay, Terminals 1 and 2 of Hong Kong International Airport, as well as in Taipei and across Mainland China.
Page One, Shop 922, 9/F, Times Square, 1 Matheson Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, 2506 0381, www.pageonegroup.com
Honorable Mention: Parentheses
Over the course of its 25 years on Wyndham Street, French-language bookshop Parentheses has cultivated a devoted coterie of regulars who attend events with local and visiting French experts and celebrities (Juliette Binoche among them) and shop from the extensive stacks of books and DVDs. This library-like store supplies everything from anatomy lectures to “chroniques Hongkongaises” to the complete works of Foucault. DVDs include such varied selections as The Molieres Collection and The Rocky Collection (en Francaises of course). And just in case the enterprise was sounding a bit academic, one can also find Paris Match and Voici – right alongside BeauxArts magazine and the new COTE magazine. A deep well of classics and a healthy Children’s section make Parentheses a one-stop-shop for any French-speaking family’s literary needs.
Parentheses, 2/F Duke of Wellington House, 14-24 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong, 2526 9215, www.parentheses-hk.com
Grab that summer read at any one of these HK bookstores… and don’t forget your glasses!
About the blogger
I’m an art/design/travel enthusiast, recently relocated from New York City. I’ve contributed to Cosmopolitan, Art Asia Pacific, Sothebys.com and Johns Hopkins Magazine. Follow me on Instagram @SiobhanBent.