Taiwan’s Eslite Bookstore founder dies

Robert Wu Ching-yu, whose Eslite chain introduced the novelty of a 24-hour bookshop to Taipei, has died from a heart condition.

After collapsing in his office, the 66-year-old Eslite Bookstore founder was taken to the Taipei Medical University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The founder and chairman of the Taiwan group has had several operations for his heart condition.

Wu opened the first Eslite Bookstore in Taipei in 1989, a year after his first major heart surgery. He later said he had experienced an epiphany at that time, and felt driven to start an “eternal business” promoting the culture of reading in Taiwan.

Eslite became a “must-visit” experience for Chinese speakers. There are now 42 of the bookstores in Taiwan, three in Hong Kong and one on the mainland – in Suzhou, Jiangsu.

Other businesses under the Eslite umbrella include art galleries, theatres, shopping arcades, restaurants and hotels.

Wu, who began as a salesman for a dining and kitchenware firm, wanted his bookstores to be more than just a place to buy books. He added cafes, music and fashion. One of the Taipei stores is open 24 hours a day and is listed in travel guides. Customers are encouraged to linger.

“The idea came when we relocated our main bookstore in 1995. To celebrate, we opened late but were still open at 4am – the customers didn’t want to leave,” Wu once said.

He shouldered heavy debts for the business’ first 15 years. Giving a talk in Hong Kong in 2014, Wu said he had persevered because he did not want to see bookstores disappear.

Wu is survived by his wife and daughter.

Photo: Handout

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