BooksActually Moves to New Home

Hands up if you have no clue where Yong Siak Street is. No, not to be confused with Keong Siak Road in Chinatown. It’s Yong Siak Street in Tiong Bahru, where trendy indie boookstore BooksActually has moved to since March—marking this its third move in five years: From culture-rich Telok Ayer Street to Ann Siang Hill, then followed by Club Street; it has now settled in this nondescript little suburb.
Why here? “We love its kampong-y feel. When we were at Club Street, there was no time to slow down. The restaurants and bars there get very rowdy,” says owner Kenny Leck. The move wasn’t just so they could bring out their bikes and cycle, as they do now. It came down to finding somewhere cheaper and bigger.
Most things remain the same despite the move. They still keep it personal, from their home collection of typewriters to their very own BooksActually sanitary disposal bags. It’s still a reflection of their tastes— consisting of Ilford cameras ($280 upwards), vintage world maps ($15 each) and Coca-Cola collectibles ($20 upwards).
“We’re different from just any retail store—this space reflects our lives. People feel like they’re stepping into someone else’s home,” says Karen Wai. And people keep coming in—young or old or wherever they’re from, everyone’s welcome. “We don’t subscribe to the business idea of having a target audience. Everybody loves a good read; it doesn’t matter where you’re from,” Leck adds.
Even Singaporeans? “A lot of people complain that Singaporeans don’t read books. But there has always been an abundance of secondhand bookshops since the 60s—they’re just tucked away. Our reading culture might not be so recognized as in London or France, where you see people reading on trains and buses,” he says. “You see it here at home, online— where people quote from books we never thought they’d be reading,” Wai quips.
They choose their books simply—by bringing in non-bestsellers from bestselling authors such as George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London ($26.50), and favorites from well-known authors such as Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love ($20.50), which inspired Haruki Murakami. “We still stock books you can’t get at major bookstores,” says Leck. “The books might not have any proven sales record, but it’s what we like.”
No proven sales record and no niche market—that’s ballsy indeed. They’ve been thriving, from an 800 sq. ft. shophouse five years ago, they’ve since expanded into the stationery line Birds & Co., with outlets in Cathay Cineleisure and Tangs, the latter a month old.
BooksActually could very well be your golden ticket to greatness. Believing there’s a lot of undiscovered talent out there, they plan to be the publishing platform for young writers. Their Ceriph project is one such space, and through this, there are already plans to introduce works from these up-and-comers to retailers worldwide.
Moving has been absolutely taxing and the duo plans to stay put at their latest store. Right now, Tiong Bahru doesn’t look too bad a place to grow roots at all—just around the corner is the coffee shop that Eric Khoo’s Mee Pok Man was filmed at, which thrills newcomers.
BooksActually is currently located at 9 Yong Siak St., 6222-9195. Open Mon 11am-6pm, Tue-Fri 11am-9pm, Sat 10am-9pm, Sun 10am-6pm.