Bookspot of the Week: Ukiyo Bookstore

For today’s bookspot, we chatted with Martin Thokchom, the owner of Ukiyo Bookstore in Imphal, Manipur, India.

Bookspot / Libraries

Welcome back to your favorite time of the week! For today’s bookspot, we chatted with Martin Thokchom, the owner of Ukiyo Bookstore in Imphal, Manipur, India. Whether you’re looking to strike up a conversation with staff, or want a diverse offering of literature, Ukiyo Bookstore is THE place to be. Plus—they’re expanding!

How did your bookstore transition from concept to reality?

I have always planned since I was young to own a bookstore of my own but only as a retirement plan. Circumstances of my life led me to open a bookstore when I was 28. I have always wanted to teach literature and I guess by becoming a bookseller I feel I am doing exactly that – the conversations with fellow book enthusiasts and students and also sharing my love for literature with them. I am definitely living the dream!!

What do you feel is unique to your bookstore?

We always strive to be more than just a bookstore, and I guess that has made all the difference for us. We feel we need to always give back to our society with what we can. We have donated books to local libraries, hosted children from far flung areas to inculcate a reading habit among them and also sponsored books as prizes for local children competitions.  

via Ukyio Bookstore

If you had infinite space, what might you add to the store?

Can I say ‘all the books ever written’? Seriously though, I would definitely love to have a coffee bar and a small space for poetry recitals.

How do you feel your bookstore fits into your local community?

Ours is a very small community and before our store came up, there were very less bookstores that catered to diverse literature of the world. I feel we have done our part in solving a bit of that. We are trying everything we can to finally bring back the reading culture in our community. We along with a wonderful team of book lovers even started an annual literature festival last year. The support from our community is also what has made us prosper.

via Ukyio Bookstore

What does your store offer that a chain or online retailer can’t?

It’s the memories. Definitely. We love to have conversations with our customers about books or just about anything and mostly life. We are good listeners too and love listening to stories of people while they browse our collection. We are like bartenders only, except we ‘intoxicate’ people with books. I believe every customer who has ever visited our store has something to share about their experience in our store.  

Do you hand-pick your staff to create a specific environment?

I used to work with a cousin when I started out – a fellow literature student like me. Our love for literature bonded with the store to give it a perfect start. He is teaching in a school now. So, I am working currently with a student who is also an avid reader. He adapts really fast and that is very helpful in running the place smoothly. This I feel is very important because bookstores can be really messy and it is an art to organize a bookstore.

via Ukiyo Bookstore

How else do you create a welcoming environment?

Good music. I feel music is important in calming our minds while we are in the store browsing books. A little bit of Van Morrison can only lighten up anyone’s mood, right?

What about your store do you think appeals to your neighborhood?

Not bragging but I think people love the design of our store, and that has made us stand out among other shops in the neighborhood. Again, ours is a very small space but we really worked hard on the finer details of the interior and the storefront with amazing people. Okay, this is definitely a brag!

via Ukyio Bookstore

Do you have any staff picks or releases we should watch out for?

A Burning, a debut novel by Megha Majumdar. This new release is the talk of the town now and rightly so.

Do you tailor your inventory according to your community?

We have to. We don’t have much choice because of our very limited space. When we started out, the collection in the store included mostly the books I loved to read or have heard of.  Now it’s mostly what people of our community love to read. I guess I am learning every day as a bookseller too.

via Ukyio Bookstore

What’s your favorite book?

If I had to pick one from my recent reads, it would be “Sunlight on a Broken Column” by Attia Hosain.

Is there anything else that you’d like our audience to know?

Well, a huge news actually!! Which better platform to announce than here to share our big announcement!!

We are going to expand our store finally!!! Yes, you heard it right. We have successfully acquired the next shop to us. We were a “very small” bookstore, now we are going to be only a “small” bookstore.

Also, I am so grateful to the team behind Bookstr for giving me an opportunity to share my story to the rest of the world, and for doing so much for the reading community during this pandemic.

For more bookish content, be sure to check out @ukiyo_bookstore on Instagram. Do you know of a book shop worthy of a spotlight on our site? Contact us through any of our socials and you may just find it here next week.

Featured image via ukiyo bookstore