Confessions of a local bookstore owner
Running BooksActually is a mix of passion and practicality for its owner
One would think that as the owner of a bookstore, Mr Kenny Leck would have plenty of time to devour as many books as he wants.
But don't be so quick to judge a book by its cover. Like many of us, Mr Leck does not get to read as much as he would like to.
"I don't get enough time to read at all," said the founder of local bookstore BooksActually.
"Most of my reading is done in the hours before I sleep, because when I am working here, I don't get much time to read."
Mr Leck, 39, works nearly every day at the bookstore, which is currently located in the quaint Yong Siak Street in Tiong Bahru.
In its 12 years, BooksActually has moved three times. It has been in its current premises for the past six years.
But the relocation has not taken away the bookstore's character.
BooksActually has carved out a distinct feel, with various knick-knacks and vintage items - collected by Mr Leck - on display and for sale alongside paperbacks and hardcovers.
"People tell me that the interior is nice, but I don't actually put much effort into it," said Mr Leck. "It's more like, I put the items wherever I see there is space."
Mr Leck's passion has always been books.
Before starting BooksActually, he worked at Tower Books and Borders - experiences he said were invaluable in helping him start his bookstore.
Mr Leck started out selling books at various book fairs, but his vision was to open a bookstore of his own.
He said: "It had to lead to having my own space. It just makes sense to have a bookstore."
It took him just seven months to accumulate enough money to rent his first space, the second storey of a shophouse in Telok Ayer Street in Chinatown.
The best part of having a physical store?
Laughing, Mr Leck said: "I get to have all the books I want. Naturally, I can't read everything, but still, nothing beats seeing so much stock and being able to run my hands all over it."
Running a bookstore has its challenges, obviously.
He constantly worries about rent - it has motivated him to save for a property for BooksActually.
The day-to-day operations can also wear him down, as the bookstore is open nearly every day.
Mr Leck cut a humble figure when talking about his staff - he has three full-timers and six part-timers - saying how important they are to him.
"I need to put in place a good team to support me to ensure that, as we move ahead, the bookstore achieves things that it wants to achieve," he said.
Mr Leck offered many reasons why he founded BooksActually: He grew up with a love of reading, readers here need a place to get less "commercialised" titles and - practically - he wants to make money.
But what seems to be the strongest reason is his desire to ensure the longevity of local literature.
"There are not enough access points for local books.
"We should try to carry as much Singlit (Singapore Literature) as possible, because it is our narrative at the end of the day," said Mr Leck.
"If we don't carry our stories, who will?"
Other than ensuring that his bookstore is well stocked, Mr Leck and his team manage publishing company Math Paper Press, which regularly releases works by local authors.
BooksActually was also part of the committee for the recent #BuySingLit campaign - an industry-led movement to celebrate local stories - which took place over the last weekend of February.
With so much going on, it is no surprise that Mr Leck hardly has time to read.
"The most I have ever read was when I was bedridden for a week and a half with an injury," he said.
"I was in a lot of pain, but it was also the best time of my life - I got to read a lot."
Secrets of the trade
- A bookstore is still a shop. Your doors have to be open as much as possible so customers can come.
- Openness extends to ideas as well. The hunger to reinvent and take on new challenges is important.
- Having a variety of titles is crucial, you never know what people might pick up.