In the midst of efforts to rejuvenate the complex, its status as a bookshop hub, located next to the National Library, is taking a hit as in-store sales drop off. 

Knowledge Book Centre is set to close down in the coming months as the store’s landlord searches for a new tenant.

With dwindling footfall to the bookstore making it difficult to pay for the shop’s rent, 69-year-old co-owner Mohamed Ismail said that he plans to shut the store that has been operating at the complex since 1981.

His store, located on the third floor of the complex, sells second-hand books and academic materials such as textbooks.

“Back in the 90s, the store would be packed and there would be hundreds of customers. Now, we’re lucky if we have more than 10 (a day),” said Mr Ismail, adding that more people were coming now that news of the closure has spread.

He said his rent is S$7,500 a month, which is S$1,000 less than what he used to pay in 2020 before the circuit breaker. 

According to some tenants in the complex, Mr Ismail’s rental is one of the highest due to its location in front of the escalator and its large 1,200 sq ft size.

Mr Ismail said: “Things have changed, people can go online and buy (books) or they don’t read as much.”

He added that as he mostly sells second-hand books, it is hard to sell online due to the book’s quality. “At my age, it’s also quite difficult to sell (online).” 

Mr Abdul Nasser, 58, owner of Basheer Graphic Books, opened his store in 1991. While he still has his regulars, overall customer numbers are well down.

His store, which specialises in selling design and architecture books and magazines, is located on the fourth floor in front of the complex’s only escalator.

“Maybe it’s just technology, or it might be just me, but back in the late '90s when the mall used to be packed with people, the escalators had queues and they would break down often because there were so many people using them.

“I don’t think the escalator has broken down in the past three years,” Mr Nasser said.

He added that shoppers' habits have changed now that most customers buy things online and go to bookstores only as a “last resort” if they are unable to get a book they want online.

“We occasionally get queries on our Instagram page from people looking for a particular book that sold out online, hoping that we have a copy,” he said. “Things have changed, we aren’t the first stop anymore.”

Despite business dropping by around 40 per cent compared to its heyday, Mr Nasser said that his shop is still doing “okay” because he carries a niche collection of books.

Another tenant at the complex, crafts supply store Art Friend, told TODAY that Bras Basah Complex has seen a low turnover of tenants and that its Bras Basah outlet has not seen a “noticeable fall in footfall”.

Art Friend noted that older anchor tenants such as music store Swee Lee and service providers such as sign makers are still supported by their regular customers and have been sticking around the complex.

“This is more a reflection of the difficulties faced by brick-and-mortar bookstores everywhere. The challenges posed by (e-commerce sites) and increased mobile phone usage are indeed difficult to overcome,” Art Friend said.

Popular bookstore, which has a flagship outlet at the complex that opened in 1980, said: “We have not contemplated leaving Bras Basah Complex, not just for the cultural significance of the complex itself, but also because it is our flagship store and the largest Popular store in Singapore.”

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