Battered by the pandemic, a lockdown, two cyclones and a status quo in academics, leading to suspension of in-person classes and curtailment of syllabus, business in the world’s biggest hub of new and old books had hit an all-time low. But, over the past few weeks, Boipara — housing hundreds of stalls of new and used books, rare academic journals, fiction, maps and everything in between — has managed to turn the page.
Business is yet to be as brisk as before the pandemic, but the situation has improved to a large extent. “Schools have started new academic sessions, and two boards have bifurcated the academic year. Several parents have been coming to purchase school and reference books, as examinations will be based on multiple-choice questions.
Colleges have started new semesters and dates of some competitive exams like state eligibility tests have also been announced. All this has improved business by almost 60% to 70%,” said Pratap Das, secretary, Sir Ashutosh Booksellers’ Association.
College Street ‘sale’ gets huge response
Last month, several big bookstores on College Street offered sale on books, and the response surprised everyone. Dey’s Publishing sold thousands of books over a period of five days in the middle of August. “It was a sort of a social experiment too. We wanted to do to see if people still buy books.
To our surprise, more than 250 to 300 people would be waiting outside even before we opened the place. Due to Covid safety guidelines, we were only allowing 20 people at a time and even that did not deter those waiting outside. We managed to sell thousands of books, but the assurance in return that people will continue to buy physical books was a much greater earning,” said Subhankar Dey of Dey’s Publishing.
Pandemic-induced lockdown and Cyclone Amphan dealt a cruel blow to Boipara last year, destroying books worth crores and damaging several stalls. The Presidency Alumni association had helped street-side book traders with financial resources and books after the cyclone last year.
“In 2020, the market was shut for over four months, but even after resuming business, there would hardly be any customers. Most of our books were damaged. But help poured in from all quarters, including those staying abroad. Business has improved, with sales up to Rs 800 to Rs 1,000 on a good day,” says Biswajit Malakar, owner of Bengal Book Stall.
“Second-hand books are selling very well,” says Purnendu Ghosh, another book-stall owner. “Customers are bargaining hard, but we are grateful that at least they are back to rekindle our hopes.”