2016.3.21 China Daily
In the digital era, traditional bookstores face challenges from online rivals that not only let readers browse for books when they are nowhere near the high street but give them the chance to read an e-book anywhere they can connect to the Internet.
Now, bookstores in Heilongjiang province are fighting back by developing a new way to grow.
Gogol Bookstore in Harbin has found its niche by creating a platform for the exchange of Sino-Russian culture.
The store, which opened in October 2014, is a branch of the State-owned Heilongjiang Xinhua Bookstore Group.
Located on a 100-year-old European-style street in the city, the neoclassical look of the building leads many customers to feel as if they might already be in Russia or a European country.
Some have called it "the most beautiful European-style bookstore in China".
"In 2015, we had more than 1,000 customers a day and a sales volume of more than 6 million yuan ($927,600) for the whole year," said Han Li, general manager of the bookstore. "We broke even in our first year, which is an unexpected thing for a State-owned bookstore that does not sell textbooks."
And that is largely because the bookstore sells much more than books.
It also offers reading spaces and Western food, including special coffee and steaks.
"We have created the brand of Gogol Beefsteak, which has been welcomed by customers and which accounts for 30 to 40 percent of our sales," Han said.
And on the shelves of the bookstore, which is named after a famous Russian writer, there is a wealth of Russian-language books on literature and art.
"In Harbin, there are many Russian people and lots of the local citizens have deep feelings for Russian culture," said Qu Bolong, president of the Xinhua bookstore group.
"We hope the bookstore offers a broad platform for the exchange of Sino-Russian culture."
According to Yu Xiaobei, deputy general manager of Heilongjiang Publishing Group, there are 83 Xinhua Bookstores in Heilongjiang. "In the future, we will transform them according to their own characteristics to achieve development during the digital revolution," Yu said.
Heihe, a town that sits on the China-Russia border in Heilongjiang, has seen a steady rise in the number of Russian tourists during the past 10 years.
In March 2015, Heihe Xinhua Bookstore was renamed Pushkin Bookstore after an upgrade and realignment.
A statue of Russian writer and poet Aleksandr Pushkin in front attracts many Russian tourists.