Bookshops are back in the Klang Valley, but not everyone is rushing out to reopen

'I think we are not alone in saying that Malaysian readers have really stepped up to support us indie bookshops these past 18 months,' says Fong Min Hun, Lit Books co-owner. This file image was taken last December. Photo: The Star

There was a mixture of muted celebration and considerable precaution from bookshop owners in the Klang Valley today when they finally were allowed to reopen their doors.

Bookshops in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, which have been shut since the nationwide lockdown was enforced on June 1, are now allowed to operate for the duration of the National Recovery Plan (PPN).

Nazir Harith Fadzilah, founder of Tintabudi in Kuala Lumpur, was happy and excited to be able to open his store today (July 16). Although the independent bookshop has been connecting with its customers and fellow book lovers online throughout the lockdown, Nazir says that nothing beats the experience of being in a physical store.

“I am glad that we are finally able to open our doors to the public today, after being closed for almost two months. It felt like there wasn’t much rationale behind the closure of bookstores during this time, as many other shops, like those in the F&B business, could continue operating.

“The past year has been tough on business owners, and the constant flip-flopping on guidelines and rules have proved to be disruptive and frustrating. We also need more advance notice on new directives, as we can’t just make plans to close or open a shop within a day. There are many things we have to do whenever this happens, so it would be helpful not only to get a clear set of guidelines but also have ample time to make the necessary arrangements.”

Kedai Fixi will also be back in business tomorrow after staff members spent time today cleaning up the indie bookshop’s outlets in Kuala Lumpur and Setia Alam, Selangor.

“For us we are looking to continue the #CucukBersamaFixi programme until Aug 31 as we have been receiving many requests for it. So we are counting on our proximity to the World Trade Centre PPV (in KL). Aside from that we are not expecting much foot traffic,” says Amir Muhammad, founder of indie publishing outfit Buku Fixi.

Kedai Fixi in Kuala Lumpur  will restart its #CucukBersamaFixi book and vaccination drive programme tomorrow (July 17). Photo: FixiKedai Fixi in Kuala Lumpur will restart its #CucukBersamaFixi book and vaccination drive programme tomorrow (July 17). Photo: Fixi

On May 11, Buku Fixi started its #CucukBersamaFixi free book initiative to support the national vaccination drive. Hundreds of books were snapped up, but the campaign hit the pause button when the lockdown took effect on June 1.

“We are happy that the government realises the importance of opening bookstores as it is important for children (books to keep them occupied and continue to learn) and adults (to upskill and motivate). Hope that the other industries will also open up soon as we need to support one another to thrive and revive the economy,” says Andrew Yap, a co-founder and managing director of BookXcess, who is preparing to reopen 10 physical bookstores based in the Klang Valley.

“On our part BookXcess will ensure that our operations are managed with strict safety measures to ensure that the well being of our customers take top priority and accordingly that the right protocols are in place,” he adds.

While the loosening of pandemic restrictions allows the BookXcess staff to restart work on-site, Yap is also concerned about the roadmap to a proper economic recovery.

"While we are fully appreciative of today's lifting of the ECMO in KL and Petaling Jaya, I need to highlight that current tendency to have half measures and conflicting SOPs have certainly affected not only our ability to do business with a degree of consistency but it has also affected the livelihoods of thousands of workers," says Yap.

The patient approach

Kiridaren Jayakumar, founder of Bibliophile Bookshop in Petaling Jaya, is playing it safe and still has his shop closed to the public.

His priority is to keep everyone, including his staff, as safe as possible, and he doesn’t foresee reopening the shop until the pandemic situation improves.

“I think I will have to set a target of some kind, maybe when cases in Selangor drop to below 2,000 per day, I can start thinking about reopening the shop. Even though we love having people in the bookstore, at the moment, my priority is safety.

“With so many new Covid cases reported each day, I have decided that it is best that we continue doing what we have been doing in the past two months: our customers can order their books online and opt for delivery or even kerbside pick-ups,” says Kiridaren.

The Bibliophile Bookshop in Petaling Jaya will remain closed until the pandemic situation improves in Selangor. Photo:  Bibliophile BookshopThe Bibliophile Bookshop in Petaling Jaya will remain closed until the pandemic situation improves in Selangor. Photo: Bibliophile Bookshop

Lit Books in Petaling Jaya also posted a statement on its Facebook page that said it will not be rushing to reopen immediately.

“Even though bookshops are now allowed to open, we have decided to not reopen our physical store just yet in view of the high number of Covid-19 cases,” read the Lit Books statement.

"While being allowed to open is certainly a welcome development, we are concerned that the Covid-19 situation hasn't visibly improved, and in fact has deteriorated, since the imposition of the MCO and EMCO earlier this year. As such, we have decided to keep Lit Books closed in the interest of public health and to safeguard our own welfare during this challenging time," says Fong Min Hun, Lit Books co-owner.

"A small bookshop run solely by a husband and wife team, we have little recourse should one or the both of us fall ill. We recognise that reopening our physical shop would certainly bolster our business prospects and we empathise with our fellow small business owners who urgently need to reopen to survive.

"We are more fortunate in that the support of our customers, both regulars and new ones, have helped see us through this pandemic and given us a choice in deciding to open or remain closed. I think we are not alone in saying that Malaysian readers have really stepped up to support us indie bookshops these past 18 months," he adds.

In Kuala Lumpur, Books Kinokuniya Malaysia - one of the major mainstream bookshops in the capital - is also not ready yet to swing open its doors.

"Our store will remain closed for preparations before reopening. Kindly stay tuned to our social media for more updates," read a statement on Books Kinokuniya Malaysia's Facebook page.

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