Mumbai: Iconic A H Wheeler book stalls which began its journey from London and gained prominence on Indian railway stations with a clientele of thousand daily commuters buying books like hot cakes, has now been reduced to a newspaper stall and becomes only a landmark on the platforms.
Wheeler’s demise has been attributed to the technology-driven world of high-end gadgets like smartphones. These internet-enabled phones have reduced the sales of books of various genres, which were once a major hit among youngsters.
The 137-year-old A. H Wheeler and Co Pvt Limited first set up its stall in Allahabad by T K Bannerjee in 1877. The stall’s name was derived from the successful bookstore in London — Arthur Henry Wheelers.
At present, A H Wheeler has presence in over 258 railway stations across the country. This bookstall was once famous for its novels by well-known authors, including Rudyard Kipling and Sidney Sheldon among others. In the past one decade, stall owners say sales of comic books, novels and magazines have dramatically dipped by around 50%.
Satypal Kinger, a 62-year-old agent of A H Wheeler bookstore at Chhtrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT), said their revenue has dropped by 50% in the past one decade.
“There was a time when we were so occupied with customers rushing to our store in order to buy the latest novels. Today, youngsters have swanky cell phones, kindles and are seen immersed in them. They read novels on either cell phones or on the latest electronic gadgets,” Kinger said.
In Mumbai alone, there are a total number of 35 Wheeler bookstalls. The CSMT station have two of them and two trolleys selling books. Today, on a handful of outstation passengers come to the store only to buy newspapers.
“We are glad when a customer comes to the store to buy books. Newspapers are still sold briskly as there are many passengers who purchase them and read during their hours-long journey,” Kinger said.
The stall owners said they are still running the bookstore as there are many women who buy books like railway timetables and health related magazines.
“Youngsters have completely stopped coming but there are women who come to buy magazines. These women are those who are not comfortable with mobile phones,” said another agent in Mumbai Central.
The stall owners are waiting for some support from the youngsters in order to re-kindle the magic in which these stores used to run.
“The free Wi-Fi facility at railway stations has worsened our business. Due to this, students opt to read educational magazines on their cell phones,” said another agent of a bookstore in Dadar.
The other day Kinger heard a woman talk to her friend over phone and trying to give a landmark. “She was waiting near the book store. She uttered the name of the bookstore and asked her friend to come there,” Kinger said.
He smiled and felt good that the bookstore is still a part of Mumbaikars’ daily life. Be it only as a landmark.