Hong Kong’s independent bookstores continue to struggle as the rise of online shopping and online booksellers continues. One bookstore, Bleak House Books, is closing its doors after an American owner decided to close down the store in order to focus on his other business ventures.
The American owners to close Bleak House Books, one of Hong Kong’s few independent bookstores is a story about an American owner closing down the only bookstore in Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong independent bookshop Bleak House Books will shut on October 15, according to Albert Wan, an American co-founder. The bookshop was founded by Wan and his wife, Jenny Smith, in 2017. On August 28, Wan explained his decision in a Facebook post. “The Last Memo,” a post on the bookstore’s blog at blog.bleakhousebooks.com.hk, has further details.
‘Politics is the background,’ says the author.
“The choice to shut the bookstore comes after another equally difficult and tragic decision: my family and I will be leaving Hong Kong soon,” Wan wrote in “The Last Memo.” “Of course, politics is the background to these events,” he said, while emphasizing that neither he nor his wife were “overtly political.”
Wan was cited by the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) as stating that mainland China’s national security legislation had resulted in “greater pressure to self-censor today than before,” and that this pressure was “partly the cause for shutting and leaving Hong Kong.” High rents and competition from online bookshops, according to the HKFP, were cited as reasons for a number of local bookstores shutting lately.
Wan said on Facebook that Bleak House Books was “happy, flourishing, and prosperous.”
One of Hong Kong’s “undiscovered treasures”
The bookshop was situated in an industrial building in the city’s San Po Kong district, according to RTHK, the former British colony’s official broadcaster. Peanut Butter Bookie, a YouTube channel, named Bleak House Books one of the city’s “secret treasures.” The shop was located on the 27th floor of a large building at Well Tech Centre, which was difficult to discover. Books on local pro-democracy protests were on display at the shop in a video on the channel.
Human Rights Watch’s executive director, Kenneth Roth, was among many who took to Twitter to express their displeasure at the bookstore’s closing.
“Another gloomy indication as Beijing destroys Hong Kong’s freedoms: Bleak House Books, one of Hong Kong’s remaining independent English-language bookshops, will shut its doors on October 15,” he added.
In Hong Kong, an American couple
Wan wrote about his family’s relocation to Hong Kong on the bookshop blog.
When his wife accepted a job offer from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in 2016, he claimed he was working as a lawyer and his wife was on the faculty of the Georgia Institute of Technology. He said, “So it was off to Hong Kong for the family.” Wan remembered choosing at the former British colony to pursue something “difficult, artistic, and community-oriented.”
Since its debut in 2017, the shop has held a variety of cultural events, he said.
Wan said in his Facebook post that he was asked what he would miss about the city. He stated, “The reality is I don’t have the mental energy to’miss’ anything… since my emphasis is on what I can do for the city right now.”
One final poem to be read
Wan said the bookshop will hold one final poetry reading “with our dear friends at Cha literary magazine” in a Facebook post. Cha maintains a blog, chajournal.blog, and a website, www.asiancha.com. “There will be no goodbye party, and no clearance sale,” Wan said of Bleak House Books. He said that the majority of the unsold books will be given to independent retailers and other organizations.
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