Bookstores are lonely forts, spilling light onto the sidewalk. They civilise their neighbourhoods. ~John Updike
When you can’t catch a plane and run off to the beach or the hills, where do you hide? Hemmed in within the four walls for days and months together with nowhere to run off to – the pandemic lead people to ‘travel within’ for self-discovery and also ride on the flights of stories by getting lost within the covers of books to discover new worlds.
The pandemic has made more readers out of travellers, or that is what Ajay Jain would like to believe. Jain who has been an avid traveller and travel writer is fondly remembered among ‘travel people’ for Kunzum – the quaint little coffee hub he ran for years as a space for people to come together and share travel stories and travel dreams. The cafe in the little Hauz Khaz village lane however lost its purpose during the pandemic and Jain decided to rediscover the old Kunzum space and re-launch with a splash – all over Delhi and NCR as a chain of bookshops offering, apart from books - art, conversations, and coffee.
“The pandemic shifted something within people. A lot took place – people lost loved ones, some lost health and lives changed permanently. There was need for solace. Kunzum in its new avatar is a post-pandemic space where people can find peace in the pages of books and immerse themselves” Jain told Business Today.
At Kunzum’s earlier travel cafe, there never was a pricelist for coffee and cookies and people could pay whatever they could. There was a soft-board for people to pin up their travel dreams. There would be music and conversations.
Over the last few weeks, Jain has opened doors to five Kunzum bookstores across Delhi-NCR. The initial investment is Rs 20 crore.
What inspires Jain’s faith in bookshops, when stores across the country are shutting down?
Jain says that bookstores being shut has nothing to do with the demand for books – and there is sufficient need for books and spaces conducive to reading and absorbing knowledge.
“Bookstores are running out of business because they are failing to evolve. Every business has to evolve with time or they become irrelevant. Now some book stores are turning into gift shops – we are not going there. We will not sell teddy bears along with books. We are creating a pure experience for readers. You can read or browse at the stores – there are discussions and events – and if you buy a book, you get coffee on the house,” said Jain.
Jain has rapid expansion plans as well and he wants to go beyond the regular concept of book stores.
“With books as a background, we are going to create spaces for people to interact, create dialogue and bring in a sense of belonging for people seeking solace in the realm of books. Kunzum in its new avatar is a space to build community and dialogue,” said Jain.
To start with Jain has a collection of one lakh books distributed in his five stores and he claims that no two Kunzum store is designed to be the same.
The other discovery made by Jain during the pandemic years is that, unlike popular perception that youngsters are increasingly turning towards books despite the lure of screens and social media.
“Initially, when we were designing the stores, we had thought that our clients would mostly be either older than 35 or younger than 16, but we were pleasantly surprised to see that young people were equally drawn to books and we get an adequate number of visitors from the young groups,” said Jain.
Once travelers converged at Kunzum, now Kunzum is ready to travel beyond Delhi and India.
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