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Eslite Bookstore: Taipei’s cultural landmark

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There is a saying in Taiwan: if 101 Taipei is the geological landmark of Taipei city, then Eslite bookstore would be Taipei’s cultural landmark. Many tourists from Hong Kong and other Asian regions visit Taiwan in order to see the bookstore; one of the reasons why Taipei is considered one of the best cities to live in is also because of the influence of Eslite bookstore. For the past decade, Eslite bookstore has become a symbol of Taiwan’s culture.

In 1989, the first Eslite bookstore opened in Renai Avenue in Taipei city. Now, the sizes of Eslite bookstore would amaze people: Taiwan is a small island, but there are 49 Elite bookstores, 1 Eslite children’s bookstore and 4 Eslite music stores. In Taipei city, there are 19 Elite bookstores; in recent years the brand also opened franchise in Hong Kong and Mainland China, creating an “Eslite book kingdom”.

In the headquarter in Dunnan road, the store has 5 floors; the first floor is an exhibition area, the second floor is a 1000-square-meter book store, the two underground floors sell stationary goods, artistic toys, handcrafts and home decorations and the lowest floor is a round room that functions as Elite music gallery, which collect music and videos. Moreover, café shops and food counters are scattered among those floors for visitors to relax and make conversation. This business model differs from traditional bookstore, it combines and supplement bookstore with shopping and retail business. Elite defines bookstore as a diverse and dynamic cultural entrepreneurship instead of merely book-selling business.

The “Eslite phenomena” redefined bookstore and its business concepts, elevated bookstore to a cultural center that presents all kinds of cultural products to customers. In 1999, the headquarter in Dunnan road decided to open for business 24 hours, being the first bookstore in Asia to start this undertaking, Eslite became the most famous bookstore and a symbol of a creative and never-closing cultural center. In the Dunnan headquarter, more costomers visit the store after 11pm. Some say that Eslite bookstore became the meeting spot of Taipei’s youth at midnight; some criticize Elite for changing the essential identity and traditional features of a bookstore. However, no one can deny Elite’s success and the fact that it satisfies modern human being’s needs, and it revitalized the bookstore tradition.

The design of the bookstore is another creative endeavor; when a new store opens, the design absorbs the cultural features of its location, therefore every store is different in design and decoration. For example, the store in Ximending where Taipei’s young people gather, set up special area for Manga and romantic novel; the store in Tianmu specializes in travel, home decoration and other lifestyle themes; the one in Zhongnan focuses on books written in Chinese. Besides its elegant design and creative use of space, Eslite always come up with interesting retail ideas: the stores host at least 400 talks, performances and galleries each year. Elite’s book club is another successful idea and its monthly publication attracts and keeps customers coming back.

Eslite was the first bookstore brand to have a special shelf for best-selling books, on the other hand, they not only care about best-sellers, they are also keen on recommending less well-known books that are valuable. The founder of Elite, Qingyou Wu says that best sellers can bring huge profits, but that is not the goal of Elite bookstore, their goal is have good books be seen and read by the customers.

On Elite’s bookshelves, there are many books related to Mainland China. As you walk into the Dunnan head quarter’s history section, you will see the little red book written by Mao Zedong, it is advertised as the “must-read bible before you visit Mainland China”. Although there is no special shelves for books written in simplified Chinese imported from Mainland China, under the category of Chinese history, many books on Mainland’s social and political issues are available for readers to browse, and as we’ve been told, those books are long-time best sellers.

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