Imagine an independent book store that sells mostly pre-loved books, no bestsellers and where the focus is not on business, but on book curation –sounds too good to be true?
However, that’s the philosophy of Barkha Sharda and Chirang Kumar, the brains behind the newly-opened book store at Altinho, Panjim, which is aptly named That Book Store with a logo of an inquisitive black cat, that will immediately grab your attention.
After exhibiting and selling their curated book collection at various pop-up markets and online, That Book Store opened its physical space last August. However, Sharda states that the idea percolated in 2015. They used to work with The Learning Centre, in Moira, and also with mobile libraries across Goa. At that time, they noticed a gap in access to children’s books in North Goa.
“We found that the locally available options consisted mostly of shiny bookstores, selling more merchandise than books, focusing entirely on fast-moving inventory and ‘popular’ books that sell well. As a result, finding gentle stories that speak of various cultures, folk tales, feelings, relationships etc had all but disappeared. Some of the biggest names now resemble stationary-and-toy stores rather than actual bookstores. It’s heart-breaking!” says Sharda.
This, in a way, inspired them to work towards their curated book store. Their focus was mainly on two things — quality books in good condition and at a reasonable cost.
“There should be some place that keeps beautiful, hidden story books that can help budding hearts navigate through complicated emotions, feelings and struggles that are all part of growing up. So during the first wave of COVID-19, we put all our energies into building a collection, specifically for children,” explains Sharda about the journey of her book store.
They first started by sourcing both pre-loved and subsidised books and combed through them carefully.
They started their venture by selling books online and also through pop-up markets. But, having a physical space was always the plan. It may sound challenging in today’s day and age, but for them, this is an ideal way to sell books.
“Books are an inherently old-fashioned business. We can certainly modernise the selling aspect of books and cater to a national/international audience, but the charm that a physical bookstore has cannot be fully replicated online. The best book businesses continue to be family-run and those where they know each customer and what their interests are. Most refrain from focusing on bestsellers and instead focus on curating for existing and new customers. That is where we take inspiration from,” says Sharda, who has an MPhil degree in Development Studies from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, and a Masters in Social Work from Delhi University.
The main feature of That Book Store is its pre-loved books. Through this, they also want to change the notion that they are ‘used’ books. “The idea of pre-loved makes a lot of people uncomfortable because it can also be understood as ‘used,’ but to us, it meant that the books have travelled and had their own stories. Then again, many continue to be brand new, recent publications, but with a stain or discolouration or a slight jacket tear. None of the books are ever pirated.”
The books at That Book Store are multilingual, multicultural, emotionally sensitive, rare-to-find books for all ages. They may be pre-loved, or new, and priced lower than their MRP. “We sell our personal curation. Also, we don’t do bestsellers. We aren’t in the business of selling anything just because it’s the most popular book or because it’s easy to sell. That’s the polar opposite of why we began That Book Store,” says Sharda.
MORE THAN BOOKS
On September 11, they also started the Reading Room, which has their personal collection that includes graphic novels for adults and children, picture books and a mix of chapter books and fiction.
On a concluding note when asked about the dwindling reading culture due to social media, podcasts and other mediums, Sharda believes that these are just various mediums to consume stories. However, she emphasizes on quality content.
“Podcasts, e-books and even movies are opportunities, not challenges. They bolster the culture of storytelling and help keep it alive. We have received a lot of love and support from young people and families within and outside of Goa including library spaces from bigger cities. But, what we as an audience must do is hold the creators and suppliers of these stories to a higher standard. Just as they have a responsibility to bring their best work to us, we the audience have the responsibility to say no to sub-par content,” she says.