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Closing a chapter in history: In this file photo taken in Kwitang, Central Jakarta, in August 2008 a book vendor browses books with a customer. Due to the city’s policy of ridding the area of streetside book sellers, the vendors are being forced to empty their kiosks and face an uncertain future.(JP/Jerry Adiguna)
Entering the final week of the school holidays, parents and students are flocking to book stores in Kwitang, Central Jakarta, to buy text books, which have become the backbone of the stores’ businesses.
Sasa, a 15-year-old girl who is set to enter SMAN 20 state senior high school next week, was looking for a place to buy used text books on Monday after her brother-in-law had suggested she go to Kwitang.
“This is my first time to come to Kwitang and I’m glad that my brother-in-law brought me here so that I can search for used text books,” said Sasa, who was looking for a used text book on natural sciences to replace the one that she had lost.
Customers like Sasa allowed book stores in Kwitang to compete against the mushrooming modern book stores in Jakarta, said Hendrik, the owner of Restu book store on Jl. Kwitang Raya No. 4.
He said that his business depended on income from selling text books to students as well as on academic institutions looking for books for their libraries.
“Since the Jakarta administration relocated the book vendors in 2008, the number of people buying books has decreased. But my business has been able to survive because many students or school owners buy text books in bulk,” said Hendrik, who inherited the business from his father-in-law in 1998.
The book sellers were relocated to Proyek Senen market and the Jakarta City Center, now known as Thamrin City shopping mall, both in Central Jakarta.
He added that people still came to Kwitang because the book stores there offered discounts every day. One example of a repeat visitor to Kwitang is Arif, a 44-year-old civil servant.
“I’ve been visiting Kwitang since I was in college to buy text books or dictionaries because they’re available at dirt-cheap prices. For example, I received a 30 percent discount for these two Korans that I bought,” he said.
Even though Kwitang is still frequently visited by people looking for cheap books, the area is now a shadow of its former self.
Hundreds of book vendors and their stalls, which used to occupy part of the Kwitang street, are nowhere to be seen. Only three book stores are operating there, including the one owned by Hendrik.
With no air conditioning, these book stores with dusty shelves are a far cry from the modern book stores in air-conditioned shopping malls such as Gramedia.
However, the shabby condition actually helped the book stores in Kwitang attract visitors, according to Hendrik.
“People tend to be intimidated by glossy places. If they see a threadbare book store like mine, they will immediately associate it with cheap prices,” he said. (han)