Customers reminisce about bookstore where ‘lights never went out’

TAIPEI (CNA) — A Taipei bookstore that had been open to customers around the clock since 1999 closed its doors on Sunday, but its special ambience and services will not be easily erased from the memory of its faithful patrons.

Eslite Dunnan was hub for artists, writers and cultural icons over three decades, hosting events that ranged from exhibitions, to stage performances and night lectures.

In a final farewell, Eslite Dunnan hosted a nostalgic “18 Hours of Marathon Lectures” on Sunday, inviting writers, book editors and performers to share their memories of the world’s first 24-hour bookstore.

“The year 1989 was an unforgettable one in which I saw not only the parts of Taiwan I had never seen before, but also a bookstore I had never seen anywhere else in the world,” said Chen Fang-ming (陳芳明), 72-year-old writer and scholar who had been in exile for 15 years prior to 1989.

Chen, who had been listed by the government as political dissident at the time, said Sunday that when he returned to Taiwan, Eslite bookstore became a sanctuary for him as a writer.

“I saw literature I had never seen before in a bookstore in Taiwan,” Chen told CNA, referring to books critical of Taiwan politics, which had been banned during the martial law era (1949-1987).

Sharing his memories of the bookstore, Chen said that when he started teaching History of Taiwanese Literature in 1995, he was able to find every reference book he needed at Eslite.

“Because of Eslite, I was able to continue writing,” he said, adding that the store not only had a large and wide-ranging stock of books, but it also arranged them like in a library.

Another writer, PChome Online Chairman Jan Hung-tze (詹宏志), said that Eslite Dunnan will remain in his memory as “the bookstore where the lights never went out.”

With the bookstore being open around the clock, it attracted creative people in the fields of arts and culture, and they in turn helped to build Eslite into a cultural and artistic hub, said Jan, who is also a successful filmmaker and entrepreneur.

“It was Taipei citizens who created the unique atmosphere at Eslite Dunnan over the past 30 years,” he said, in a lecture titled “The City of Reading: Memories of my Reading Life in Taipei over the Past 30 Years,” which was attended by some 300 people.

In the final hours before Eslite Dunnan closed its doors at midnight Sunday, about 50,000 people visited the store for the last time, according to Spectrum Corp., which operates the Eslite chain.

“There are other branches. But nothing will replace the original Eslite Bookstore,” Tim Culpan, a Taipei-based columnist for Bloomberg, tweeted two days before the store’s closure.

The Dunnan store on the intersection of Dunhua South Road and Anhe Road was relocated from a nearby site in 1995 and started its round-the-clock service in 1999, becoming the first 24-hour bookstore in the world, according to the company.

The 24-hour service will now be transferred to the Eslite store in the bustling Xinyi District in Taipei and will also include a 24-hour supermarket, music shop, and a café that will stay open until 1 a.m., according to Spectrum.

Since the start of the year, the company has been closing some Eslite bookstores in Taiwan for business restructuring and now has about 38 throughout the country.