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Independent bookstores in Hong Kong offering unique collections and beyond.

By Mike Chu

Independent bookstore owner Dexter Tse woos customers with his comprehensive selection of books about Hong Kong history.

Tse is the owner of Lion Ink Bookstores. Lion Ink is a member of “ABookClub”, which is composed of smaller bookstores in the city. Each bookstore has its own niche collection of books focusing on one theme. 

“As people have been getting more interested in the history of Hong Kong recently, I want to provide Hong Kong history book lovers with a rich selection of books on the subject to cater to their needs,” says Tse, who studied history at university. 

Tse, who has been running his bookstore for two years, tries to offer something that mainstream bookstores cannot provide.

“Compared to mainstream bookstores, independent bookstores are more focused on the process of book curation,” he says. 

The store is located in an attic in a private flat on Tai Nan Street. 

“We have limited space to store books so independent bookstores are selective with their collections featuring a particular theme,” Tse says.

Apart from limited space, another challenge for Tse is sourcing books. 

“Books we source from Taiwan are sometimes held for inspection by the Hong Kong Customs for a few months before we can take them back,” Tse says, adding that it usually happens around July and October. 

“By the time the books are returned to us, we miss the best-selling period for new Taiwan books, as customers have already bought them online,” he says. 

Apart from selling books, Tse also hopes he can provide some public space for residents nearby. 

Tse is not alone in creating unique experiences for readers in independent bookstores. 

Sharon Chan, who runs Mellow Out in Kwun Tong, organizes events ranging from author sharing to boxing classes for customers. 

Mellow Out, an independent bookstore in Kwun Tong. (Photo courtesy of Mike Chu)
Mellow Out does not only sell books, but also hold events. (Photo courtesy of Mike Chu)

“I live here and I feel like Kwun Tong is lacking a place for people to gather around and have fun,” Chan says. 

The most memorable event for Chan was a dog adoption event in June 2023. “It was really funny to watch puppies running around inside a bookstore. It was quite a unique experience,” she recalls. 

Still, the ultimate goal for Chanisto is to encourage people to buy books at her store. “By holding events here, I hope people can take a look at the books too and perhaps buy some of them,” the bookstore owner adds.

Chan also wants to connect authors and readers by hosting meet-and-greet sessions. “They can have face-to-face chats to exchange their thoughts and ideas more,” Chan adds. 

Traces of Books, located in Fortress Hill, does not sell or lend books to others. While it sounds odd at first, the owner just wants to offer readers a place to read. 

Traces of books, located in a half-empty mall. (Photo courtesy of Mike Chu)

“I believe books can heal people’s souls. So I want my bookstore to be a place where people can experience this power,” bookstore owner Map Tang, who is also a social worker, says.

All categories of books can be found in Traces of Books. (Photo courtesy of Mike Chu)

No staff is deployed at the store, as Tang wants visitors to enjoy solitude when reading.

“My store cannot accommodate many people. It is like a mini town hall for people who just gather around and read, and maybe even chat,” Tang says. 

Tang is not optimistic about the future of other independent bookstores. Many bookstores have ceased operation recently, with Mellow Out announcing they will close their physical store in Kwun Tong due to “violation of the building’s rule”. 

“This is a new Hong Kong, and we have to get used to it and move on with our life. We still have a long way to go,” Tang says. 

Edited By Perry Kwok

Sub-edited by Cynthia Hu