Sultana Book Store at Peace Centre may shutter by end of September

Sheila Chiang
Lifestyle contributor
Sultana Book Store at Peace Centre. (PHOTO: Wan Phing of wanphing.com)

SINGAPORE – 25 September may be the last day of operation at Peace Centre for secondhand bookstore Sultana.

Being in business for decades, Sultana Book Store has been a treasure trove for many book lovers looking for rare and out-of-print titles. Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore spoke to a volunteer who is manning the bookstore for the owner, who could not confirm whether the bookstore will relocate to another location or close down for good.

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Physical bookstores are one of the disappearing trades in Singapore, with more people turning to smartphones, social media and e-books for their reading fix, as well as competition from online bookstores. The bookstore business is ailing due to increasing rental costs and decreasing demand for hardcopy books. The shopkeeper, who only wants to be known as “Mr Kwok”, may be hanging up his boots, for both personal and business reasons, 20 years after taking over the bookstore from its founder.

Sultana Book Store originated from an old pre-war shophouse on Bras Basah Road. Since Kwok took over Sultana Bookstore, he has operated the shop from Peace Centre.

Kwok is a low-profile man but many of his customers have spoken fondly of him, calling him the human reference library. For those who have been to the Sultana Book Store, they would know that the bookstore has a selection of titles in literature, religion, philosophy, history and more, but books are stacked precariously on top of each other and the aisles are so narrow they could fit only one person at a time. It can be a challenge to find the book you need. But Kwok is very helpful – he knows where requested books are located and does not even need to run a system search to check whether the book is available. This is a man who is passionate about books and knows his store like the back of his hand.

The volunteer at the bookstore, who did not want to be named, said, “Mr Kwok will not be at the bookstore for a while. He has asked me to help look after the bookstore. I am helping him to look for another place that is more affordable. The last day of operation may extend but we do not know for sure.”

She said that she has been a long-time patron of the bookstore and had known Kwok for 10 years. She is not an employee of the bookshop and is just helping out the owner.

She added that Sultana Book Store “is a good place for people to destress”, with Singapore being a stressful society and that “it would be painful to lose the place”.

There is no official website for Sultana Book Store, except for their rarely updated Facebook page. They describe themselves to be a “bricks-and-mortar set-up offering books, curios, and courses and acts as a resource place for connection, inspiration, sharing and service.” Like most secondhand bookstores, they make their name known through word of mouth.

People who frequent the place are sad to hear of the news of Sultana possibly folding its business.

Wan Phing, a patron of the bookstore, said, “My last visit to Sultana was in May this year. The bookstore is like a needle in a haystack, however, it's amazing that Mr Kwok always knows where to find the books if you give him the title, author or genre. Just tell him what you're looking for and he will be able to find it for you! I used to spend entire Saturday afternoons browsing through the stacks of books, even having to do some acrobatics and ‘shelving duties’ for him because the rows are so narrow and the books a little messy. But it's what adds character to the store. Mr Kwok is ever so helpful, friendly and will chat with you about anything, especially philosophy, his favourite topic! I will definitely miss Sultana if it closes and I wish him all the best if he decides to close the business!”

Customers are welcome to visit the store before it moves out of Peace Centre by 25 September. However, please call them at 6337 2387 to inform them before heading down as opening hours are subject to change.

Sultana Book Store is located at 1 Sophia Road, #02-14, Peace Centre.

It opens from Mondays to Saturdays, 12pm – 7pm (may vary).