The Only Chinese Bookstore in Sunset Park Struggles 

Xinhua Bookstore (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

A Chinese saying goes “one can find a house of treasure in books.” To maintain this “house of treasure” for Chinese readers has been the goal for Jerry Lin, the owner of Xinhua Bookstore in Sunset Park since day one. But now the bookstore, the only one in the neighborhood focusing on Chinese-language books and located at the intersection of Eighth Avenue and 54 Street, is struggling, thanks to the impact of the digital era.

Lin said the bookstore opened eight years ago. But in recent years, the business has been dwindling quickly. He has been trying hard to keep it open because if the store shuts down, Chinese immigrants in Sunset Park would have nowhere to buy books in their native language.

Lin said the bookstore’s previous life was a shop for CDs and DVDs owned by his friend. Lin had been helping the friend manage the store since he moved to the U.S. from China in 2004. The business was robust for a while. The albums of Teresa Teng (a Taiwanese pop star) and some Hong Kong movies were popular products. And “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” an Oscar-winning movie by director Ang Lee, was the hottest item when it came out in 2000.

But by 2010, business was declining quickly because of the development of online music and movie sites. Via a coincidental occasion, Lin met people from the Xinhua Bookstore Group in China. And in the same year, he signed a contract with the conglomerate book distributor in China to open a franchise in Sunset Park, where the population of Chinese immigrants was increasing dramatically. 

Lin still remembers clearly the glorious grand opening ceremony of the bookstore. Many community leaders attended the ceremony and a consul from the Chinese Consulate General in New York cut the ribbon. Lin’s was the third Xinhua Bookstore in New York, with the other two in Chinatown and Flushing. When the one in Chinatown shut down, Lin’s store and the one in Flushing worked closely together, importing the same type of books from China. But that didn’t last long. Different tastes of the Chinese readers in Sunset Park and in Flushing drove them apart. 

Xinhua Bookstore owner Jerry Lin (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

Lin found readers in Sunset Park particularly like children’s books and women’s health and general health-related books. He goes back to China frequently to select the titles for the customers. On the shelves of the bookstore are a rich variety of books from stories for children, comics, novels, and biographies (…). Other than books, the store also carries related products like school supplies, albums and films to attract customers with various needs.

Business was good in the beginning. New immigrants as well as older generation immigrants all patronized the store. It quickly built up a base of repeat customers. But now, Lin said his business has been declining. He thinks electronic books have definitely contributed to the decrease. Young people no longer read print books any more. In addition, Chinese immigrants are changing too. Fewer and fewer people like to read books, period. 

Lin said electronic books are not perfect substitutes for paper books, which, when you hold them in your hands, give you a different feeling. But he noted that even the mainstream bookstores in the U.S. are closing amid the e-book invasion, and Chinese-language bookstores have no better way to escape the trend. 

Lin said he made some profits in the early years. Now he keeps the bookstore open mainly to fulfill a responsibility to the community. For how long? Lin said he doesn’t know. “Right now, I am trying to make it last as long as I can,” he said.

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