Rent bill forces closure of 102-year-old bookseller.
Main photo: Former Link publisher holding a copy of Swindon Heritage magazine outside Swindon Books in 2013
Swindon Book, Hong Kong’s leading English language bookseller, has closed its doors to become an entirely online business.
The company faces a massive bill for unpaid rent of HK$3.71 million on its Kowloon based retail outlet after the severe lockdown due to Covid-19 imposed on the Special Administrative Region of China in February saw a complete loss of trade. High street trade has also suffered during months of civil unrest in protest across the former British colony against new security laws imposed by the Chinese government.
Swindon Book Co. stocked the most comprehensive range of English language books and magazines in the region. The shop in Tsim Sha Tsui, had the high-end atmosphere of Foyles of London and US chain Barnes & Noble. Besides retail, the company is a distributor for several publishers and stationery manufacturers and is also a major supplier of books and journals to educational institutions, professional and business organisations in Hong Kong and across Asia.
The business was established in 1918, but a new name was adopted in 1936 when it located to new premises. At the time it was fashionable for commercial enterprises to have a western name, often a capital city like London, Paris or New York. Lee Kin, the manager at the time, chose Swindon, using two Chinese characters meaning ‘making a breakthrough at the auspicious hour.’
The anglicised version of the local Cantonese dialect pronunciation sounds like ‘Swindon.’ Apparently, Mr Lee knew of the town’s Great Western Railway works. As the new bookshop was close to the terminus of the railway line which connects Kowloon to the major cities of China, the coincidence of factors made Swindon Books an auspicious choice.
Although the town’s railway works closed in the 1980s, by then Swindon had attracted the UK headquarters of high street book, newspaper and magazine seller WH Smith.