Kashmir has been continuously suffering economically in the past two years; first by lockdown imposed after abrogation of Article 370 and then by coronavirus pandemic induced lockdown. These lockdowns have hardly hit businesses running in the valley.
One of the oldest bookstores in Kashmir, Bestseller, still continues to survive and attract hundreds of readers and sell thousands of books. The bookstore relies on discount on books for its survival. 29-year-old Sani Yasnain Chiloo, runs the bookstore in Srinagar.
Bestseller was established in 1985 when Sanaullah Chiloo converted a provisional store in Srinagar into a bookshop. In those days, Bestseller had a limited number of Urdu and Kashmiri books along with Islamic literature. But soon, Sanaullah started stocking and selling books even from outside Kashmir, in both English and Urdu.
In 2017, his son Sani joined the family business. Sani Chiloo asked for feedback from his regular customers. Based on this feedback, he made changes in the way bookstore used to work. He also incorporated use of social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp to ask for suggestions from his younger audience about the kind of books they would like to read. He found that his audience wanted to read more but high prices of books always discouraged them.
Considering the feedback, he made changes in the way his bookstore functions in 2019. He wishes to make books affordable for his younger audience. He also hosts giveaways on his bookstore every month.
Bestseller now boasts of latest bestsellers, a wide-ranging collection of classic and contemporary fiction, non-fiction, Urdu and Islamic literature, to be sold at discounted rates. He also made changes to physical structure of the bookstore in order to make it more appealing. Currently, the bookstore has a collection of fifteen thousand books across English, Urdu and Islamic literature.
Sani remembers how his bookstore suffered when the government imposed a lockdown in 2019 after abrogating Article 370. That bad phase combined with pandemic induced lockdown was a big blow for businesses including his bookstore. Since bookstore can’t promise sales or timely payment, many publishers hesitate to send their books to bookstores in the valley.
Sani Chiloo says that publishers allot him a time period in which he has to make payment for his purchases. It became very difficult for him to pay charges during lockdown period as sales were badly hit. Once lockdown was eased, he went to Delhi and bought about 10,000 books many of which were second-hand. He priced these books at a very affordable number as these books were second-hand. His books started to sell like hotcakes once the news spread across the valley and readers started to “raid” his bookstore.