Beijing bookshop The Bookworm closes down

Beijing bookshop The Bookworm closes down

The Bookworm in Beijing has closed down after 14 years of trading. 

The English language bookstore, which was built on a pump room and is an illegal structure, has been unable to renew its lease and ceased trading on Monday 11th November. It is now searching for a new location.  

In a statement, the bookshop said: "It is with heavy hearts that we are forced to announce the impending closure of The Bookworm Beijing after 14 wonderful years in Courtyard No.4 off South Sanlitun Road. Despite our best efforts, we appear to have fallen prey to the ongoing cleanup of 'illegal structures', and we have not been able to secure an extension of our lease. This is particularly disappointing given that, despite many challenges, at this time The Bookworm remains a thriving business with stronger, more diverse links to the wider Beijing community than ever before."

The Bookworm's general manager David Cantalupo, told the South China Morning Post: “[The Bookworm forms] an important part of Beijing and my life. We hoped that we could get an extension [of the lease]. So we haven’t really looked that much yet at other places. We need started doing that now.” 

Founded in 2002 as a small library, The Bookworm became a sanctuary for book lovers and boasted a cafe, film screenings, book talks and its own literary festival. It opened outposts in Chengdu in 2006 and Suzhou in 2007, but both shops closed down in recent years due to poor sales. 

Cantalupo said he is unsure if the landlord's decision has been affected by efforts to clean up Beijing or if there is another reason behind the closure, amid speculation that free-flowing discussions at The Bookworm had antagonised Chinese censors. 

He told the Post: “[When] they started to privatise state-run enterprises 20 years ago, regulations were looser then. [The bookshop was built] on a pump room. It doesn’t have an address. It’s [built on] a structure that was never [transformed] into things that they can rent out. [It is an illegal structure]. We've been paying rent here for a long time. [The government] are trying to clean up Beijing. City planners are trying to get things in order. Whether there's anything else behind it, it is unclear to us.”

Reacting to the closure on social media, author Alec Ash said: "Absolutely devastating. I left Beijing last year in part because the cultural space was shrinking, and the cleanup campaign had taken away so many of the vibrant small businesses that made the city so exciting. The loss of the Bookworm feels like the final straw. RIP."

Others called the closure the "end of an era" and branded the bookshop "iconic".

Jo Lusby, co-founder of media consultancy Pixie B and former North Asia CEO of book publisher Penguin Random House, said: “It supported writers in every sense. It created a very strong community for people wanting to establish themselves as writers. It created a community centre for people wanting to meet authors at a time when there were very few spaces running these kinds of events in China.”