Makeover a breath of fresh air
2017-10-09, ZHANG YU in Shijiazhuang

State-owned Xinhua Bookstore Group plans to update its shops to match a new breed of traditional outlets and online retailers.

Part of the plan has been to revamp its store in Baoding, a small city near Beijing, in North China’s Hebei province. Last year, the shop had a complete makeover with a new interior design and is now known as the Fresh Air Books Bar.

“We are adapting to a modern trend where people want a comfortable reading environment,” said Song Wenjuan, chairman of Baoding Guanglian Digital New-Media Co, which was involved in the bookstore’s transformation.

Based on a simplistic style, the shop has even won several international awards for its innovative layout, including Germany’s Red Dot Award: Best of the Best.

What also makes it different is that there is space for customers to read books or put their feet up, as well as areas to host themed events, such as lectures and book launches.

“Instead of just buying books and leaving the store straight away, customers can sit down in a cozy place to read in a quiet atmosphere,” said Yang Xiaohong, deputy general manager of Baoding Xinhua Bookstore Co, which runs the bar and 38 outlets in the city.

One young mother, who only gave her family name as Wang, popped into the shop with her 5-year-old son. She left impressed.

“This is totally different from the old Xinhua bookstores where there was nowhere to read in comfort,” said Wang, 36.

“The old ones were just like shopping malls, usually crowded and noisy,” she added. “But now we can read here before buying the book.”

Naturally, that is part of the plan. Yang pointed out that potential customers can stay at the Fresh Air Books Bar as long as they like, even if they fail to buy a single book.

“The bar is more like a stylish, fancy cafe or a library in a university,” said Liu Mengfan, a graduate student from the Hebei University of Economics and Business.

She made two trips to the bookshop on successive days during her summer vacation, despite the 50-minute bus journey from her home.

“I came here not to read or buy any books but to prepare for my postgraduate entrance examination,” Liu said, adding that she found the bookshop quiet and comfortable.

“Plus, I can get a drink whenever I want one,” she said, referring to the snack bar.

This laid-back atmosphere has helped entice potential customers who used to buy e-books online.

Opened in April 2016, the Fresh Air Books Bar covers 400 square meters and stocks 6,000 books, selling on average about 20 titles a day, according to Yang.

“The figures are beyond our expectations,” she said, adding that the store was redesigned with the help of Baoding Guanglian Digital New-Media.

“Since the project turned out to be so successful, we plan to upgrade other outlets in the near future,” Yang said.

Baoding Xinhua Bookstore, a five-story shop covering 5,655 sq m, will be upgraded into a cultural complex similar to the Fresh Air Books Bar.

Reconstruction is set to start this month and should be finished by February 2018.

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