This 70-year-old S’porean runs the last 2nd-hand bookstore in Orchard Rd, ministers & judges among customers

Over 40 years of experience right here.

| Fasiha Nazren | Sponsored | March 04, 2022, 11:59 AM

If you ever go to Orchard Road, Far East Plaza is possibly one of your pit stops in the shopping district (especially if you’re older than 25).

The 40-year-old mall was where I looked for prom dresses back when I was a teenager not-so-many moons ago, and still is the place to grab an affordable lunch in town (honeydew noodles from Puncak or cai peng from Susan Chan, anyone?).

Only secondhand bookstore in Orchard Rd

Located in the quiet corner on the fifth floor of the mall is ANA Book Store, the only secondhand bookstore in Orchard Rd.

Full disclosure: As a Gen Z who does most of her reading on a smartphone and the Kindle, it has been a while since I last touched a physical book.

And while I had the intention to talk to the smartly-dressed storekeeper who also owns the bookstore, he was busy tending to a customer who had brought in a batch of secondhand books to sell.

While waiting, I took a moment to look through the endless columns of books that were stacked from floor to ceiling.

A moment turned into 20 minutes as I flipped through some Agatha Christie novels, looked into a box of books labelled “$2 each” and grabbed some classic Dr Seuss books for my nieces (boss, if you’re reading this, it’s all in the name of work).

Also, remind me why I ever got a Kindle again, because nothing smells better than the woody and almond-like scents of old books.

“Do you need any help?” the bookstore owner asked me just as I was squatting in front of a row of Archie Comics.

I handed him a couple of Dr Seuss books and a crisp S$10 note (I got both books for a grand total of S$8) and curiously asked him the meaning behind the bookstore’s name.

Over 40 years of experience

The man introduced himself as Noorul Islam, seemed surprised by the question, but smiled and said: “ANA Book Store opened [more than] 40 years ago and [it] is my mother’s name. I buy, sell and rent secondhand books.”

“Before me, this was my father’s career… My family, for generations, have been selling books.”

He added that before opening at Far East Plaza, ANA Book Store operated at Bras Basah.

The 70-year-old man also shared that his regular customers call him Mr Bean because of his jovial nature and slight resemblance to actor Rowan Atkinson.

“About 40 years ago, I used to go on television and the newspapers. I was on Channel NewsAsia and all these back in those days. Now no more already lah,” he said.

You can find anything from children’s books to self-help books and they range from S$2 to S$10.

He said that he places the books randomly “here and there”, but ask him for a specific title, like an autobiography by Donald Trump, for example, and he will know where to find it.

Work doesn’t feel like work

Islam, who tends the store every day except for the third and fourth Sunday of every month, told me that there’s never been a dull day for him.

ANA Book Store counts some ministers, members of parliament and judges as customers (“Cannot say who lah, must respect their privacy,” he said), but all customers that step into the bookstore are “memorable and honourable”.

Apart from his regular routine of organising, selling and buying books, Islam added that he always has company in the store, ranging from his neighbours at Far East Plaza to customers-turned-friends.

He said: “I entertain people, so they always come in to see me and keep me busy.”

And he wasn’t kidding at all. As I was talking to him, accompanying him were a retiree who comes to Far East Plaza regularly and a hairstylist from a neighbouring salon who had brought some snacks for Islam.

“Over here, it’s like a kampung. He’s a funny man and we all take care of each other,” the hairstylist said to me.

30 per cent drop in sales

While he joked that he’s always busy, Islam admitted that the mall has been quieter in recent years.

On top of the rising popularity of online shopping and e-books, Covid-19 is another impediment affecting mom-and-pop businesses like ANA Book Store.

“Business dropped by 30 per cent… [During the circuit breaker] I had freedom, I only stayed home and watch[ed] television,” he said.

Not giving up

Yet, the septuagenarian shows no sign of slowing down.

“You see, these people always ask me to retire. But I’m still busy,” he said.

He optimistically said:

“There are fewer bookshops in Singapore now. My books are a little bit cheaper than some bookshops, so they will come. I was featured in newspapers, television, social media and all that so they will recommend going to my bookshop. Sometimes, Singaporeans are very friendly.”

My conversation with Islam was cut short when some customers required his assistance and I took that as a sign to take my leave.

Ever the opportunist, Islam handed me his name card before I left and said: “Here, take my card. Maybe your story can help my business a bit.”

Helping small businesses in Singapore

ANA Bookstore is one of many local small businesses that are featured on StarHub’s Small Business Day.

In a bid to support small businesses in Singapore during these difficult times, StarHub has launched the Small Business Day initiative.

Since 2021, Small Business Day provides small businesses a platform to promote themselves at no cost on StarHub's own media channels such as TV, websites and social media.

You can find and support more local small businesses here.

Small business owners who wish to receive support can also register their interest here.

All images by Fasiha Nazren.

This sponsored article brought to you by StarHub has made the writer start buying books again.