On Thursday, Mumbai’s booklovers were saddened to learn that one of their favourite stores, Wayword & Wise, was set to pull down its shutters. A quiet nook in busy Ballard Estate, the independent bookstore was sought out for its curation of rare titles for the discerning reader.
Pradeep Nair, the bookstore’s director, confirmed that the store would shut down in about two to three months if business did not improve. Like several other establishments in the city, Wayword & Wise was closed to the public owing to Covid-19 safety precautions. It reopened on August 1 and customers have only trickled in since.
“Expenses are as they always were, but customers have stopped coming to the store. We are hoping that things will improve and business picks up, but it will take time,” Nair said. He added that the store’s owner, businessman Atul Sud, would review the performance in the coming months, with the possibility that they might stock “additional things” along with books. With e-commerce giants sounding the death knell for indie bookstores, Nair said that they haven’t thought of offering door delivery of books yet.
Wayword & Wise opened in October 2015 and quickly became an integral part of a leisurely Sunday afternoon in South Mumbai or the secret lunchtime break activity on weekdays. As Mumbai’s very own Shop Around The Corner, it earned the distinction of being a cut above many of the bookstore chains in the city. Here was a chance of a brief encounter with a book turning it into a forever favourite.
Sad news for book lovers of Mumbai. Wayword and Wise, by far the best bookstore in the city, is shutting down in another eight-nine days.
Personally this is a big loss for me.
— शिक्षित बेरोज़गार (@kaul_vivek) September 10, 2020
Author Vivek Kaul, who tweeted about the store’s imminent closure after visiting it on Thursday, said, “If you know what you want to read, you are likely to get it online. But here, you managed to get surprised.” He first visited Wayword & Wise in 2016 and has since been enticed by its crime fiction shelf and its collection of essays. He describes it as “an out-and-out bookstore” at a time when the book business tries to improvise with cafes and stationery products.
At the heart of Wayword & Wise’s distinct curation — where you could find Bob Dylan’s lyrics, read Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal or consider David Foster Wallace’s essays — was Virat Chandok, former CEO and a familiar face at the store’s avenue of wooden bookshelves. Chandok, who previously ran the shuttered Lotus Book House in Bandra, had meticulously gone through nearly three lakh titles with Sud before selecting the final ones when the store opened five years ago, a previous report in The Indian Express had stated.
Chandok’s last working day was July 31, after he was told that the store was set to close. For many bibliophiles, Chandok was synonymous with Wayword & Wise, and his departure comes as a double blow. Author Jerry Pinto said, “Wayword & Wise was a beautiful bookshop curated by a man who knew books intimately and loved them passionately. Virat knew what I would like. He pointed out the new arrivals and discussed new authors with you. We have never acknowledged how much these bookmen have meant to the intellectual life of the city.”
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