Unless you live under the rocks you might be aware of the iconic Mumbai bookstore ‘Strand Book Stall’ closing its shutters on February 28. The 70-year-old bookstore has over the years become a legend and was often frequented by popular personalities like Jawaharlal Nehru, APJ Abdul Kalam, RK Laxman and Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The bookstore was started by Padmashree TN Shanbagh as a book kiosk at Strand Cinema Hall in 1948 and was moved to its current location in 1956. Shanbhag’s daughter Vidya Virkar joined her father’s business in 1994. After Shanbhag’s death in 2009, the store was looked after his daughter and has been ailing since then.
The owners claimed financial losses the reason behind shutting the bookstore. Virkar initially sensed the impact of digitisation and e-commerce sites and shut her stores in Bengaluru. “Around the world, bookstores are shutting down because people prefer to buy books online. The business has been ailing for a while, and we tried what we could to keep it going, but the cultural landscape has changed. There’s not much we can do about that, and so we decided that it’s time to let go.,” Vidya told The Indian Express on 22 February.
Ex-employees who were part of Strand Book Stall for more than two decades don’t consider digitisation and e-commerce sites the reason behind its closure. ‘The Free Press Journal’ got in touch with few ex-employees. Speaking on condition of anonymity, one employee says, “The reports of the store being shut upsets me. I had an idea about it. I have spent 28 years of my life at Strand. Shanbhag had a passion for books and his intention was to share knowledge. His daughter never had that. After his death in 2009, there were a lot of changes and one by one the branches of the bookstore were closed. We left the place because we were helpless.”
Another employee also considers Virkar the reason behind shutting the bookstore. He says, “Shanbagh was a man with a passion for books and dedication. It is an unfortunate event that the bookstore is shutting. It saddens me as I was associated with Strand for around three decades. But everyone knows the reason behind the shutting, it is the way his daughter is running the bookstore. It is evident that she doesn’t want to run it.” He further adds, “The brand name is good and even the rent of the place is nominal. The place where the bookstore stands in on a pagadi system. It is clear that if she wanted to sustain the bookstore she would have easily done that.”
Since we believe in portraying the story from both the sides, we tried to get in touch with Strand Book Store but were unable to connect.