It is the kind of story that keeps you turning the page. “My father established Eslite Bookstore after a heart operation. The surgery was like a rebirth for him,” says Mercy Wu. “At that time, he had made money from real estate, and he thought God wouldn’t give him some money for no reason.”
The double blessing of health and wealth moved Robert Wu Ching-yu to do something good in return. As books and philosophy had always been important to him, he sought to find a way to approach people through literature, aesthetics and the arts. Eslite, set up in Taipei in 1989, would serve as the channel. “It is not only a bookstore, but also a place to settle the mind and body,” the founder said on its website.
His vision resonated with readers, who flocked to Eslite’s Dunnan store in Xinyi district, which became a hub of cultural and creative labels from Taiwan and abroad. More outlets opened up across the country as the company expanded into Hong Kong, China and Japan. It also established other businesses under the same brand, keeping to the fusion retail model of commerce embedded in culture, with books integral to what they offer.
Chengpin, Eslite’s name in Chinese, represents its desire to create a better society. Its English name is derived from an old French word that means “elite”, a symbol for everyone who strives for excellence in life.
When Wu died of a heart attack in 2017, Mercy, then 39, took over as chairperson of Eslite and Eslite Spectrum. She had joined the former in 2004, and was promoted to vice-president and general manager, respectively, of the two companies in 2010.
“My father built Eslite as a venue for him to express his good intentions and his passion for reading. Reading had transformed him. He believed it could have the same effect for people.
“He was like a dreamer. He liked elegant, beautiful things and was a very tasteful person. He enjoyed modern art and read a lot of books on architecture,” she says.
Bringing the brand to customers by integrating books with diverse, compatible cultural content and lifestyle services and products has become a dream for her too. This will turn into a reality for Malaysian book lovers when Eslite Spectrum — the group’s platform for creative commerce that links cultural creativity and business activities — opens an outlet at The Starhill, Kuala Lumpur, in 2022. The Starhill, to be launched next year, is a transformation of the iconic Starhill Gallery developed by YTL Corp Bhd.
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