A new chapter: Bookstore nearly half-a-century-old now an apparel outlet

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A popular garment store has replaced what was once the city’s largest bookshop.

Saeed Book Bank shut down in February 2011 after nearly 45 years when its owner shifted to Islamabad, but the signboards remained for about three years following its closure. In July this year, renovations began for what would become an apparel shop in August. The clothing store was earlier housed on the upper storey of the same building.

The bookstore was forced into closure due to dwindling sales. Soon after, Maktaba Sarhad, one of the oldest bookstores of the provincial capital, followed suit. Located in Khyber Bazaar, Maktaba Sarhad ultimately started selling the books at half the price and began dealing in electronics instead.

Another dealer of second-hand books on University Road also had to relocate his business to less expensive premises. Its owner, Zaki Ahmed Pirzada attributed this to the dwindling reading culture. He said leisure reading, in particular, ceased to be a pastime.

Pirzada maintained people became obsessed with the internet, movies and cell phones, with reading no longer an attraction in the “digitized world”. He added people were happy to pay Rs100 for a compact disc, but would not do the same for a copy of a classic novel.

The bookstore’s owner said he had to relocate his shop from University Road to a gloomy corner of a plaza owing to skyrocketing rent, claiming fashion outlets sprang up and sharply drove upwards the demand of shops.

Pirzada urged the government to reduce taxes on books, besides reducing the cost of printing, to encourage people to read. A city of over three million inhabitants, Peshawar has not seen any new bookstores in the past several years.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 3rd, 2014.