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Sunday, Nov. 18, 2001

New breed of bookstore born out of cafe

Ever experienced the intimidating sideways glances bookstore staff often throw your way when they feel you've been browsing too long? Ever had them state the obvious by saying, "This is not a library?" What about bookstores that wrap books in clear plastic, forcing you to judge the book by its cover?

Thankfully for book browsers, an increasing number of local book vendors are tuning into overseas trends of booksellers providing space for customers to relax and read books over a cup of coffee, without any pressure to make a purchase.

Books & Cafe, located on the sixth floor of the Daimaru Department Store near JR Tokyo Station, for example, lets customers read books and relax with a cup of coffee. Operated by Sanseido Co., the store is equipped with a so-called book zone, offering some 180,000 titles.

The system is simple. Visitors can first go to the book zone, grab a book or two and chill out in the cafe, where 18 brands of coffee are available at prices between 350 yen and 500 yen. In a bid to maintain a quiet and clean environment, using cell phones and smoking are not allowed in the cafe.

Customers seem to have taken to the idea, sitting and reading books before buying them.

If they do not like the books they have just perused, they can simply return them to the shelf.

If customers accidentally spill their coffee on the books, the cafe seems to take a relaxed attitude and does not charge for a replacement.

"Our customers are well-mannered, so we have not had any trouble so far," said an employee at the cafe.

Magazines and travel guidebooks are not allowed in the cafe. But customers can sit and read any book from the shelves in the book zone where more than 10 chairs can be found.

Osaka-based Junkudo Co. has also made efforts to satisfy its growing customer base. The company in March renovated its bookstore in Tokyo's Ikebukuro district, turning the 10-story building into a department store for books.

Special attention was paid to improving convenience and creating an atmosphere in which customers would feel comfortable. Chairs are placed on each floor and a coffee room is located on the fourth floor.

Bunkyodo Co., a major bookshop operator based in Kawasaki, meanwhile, has opened a new type of bookstore by teaming up with Doutor Coffee Co., a major coffee-shop chain operator.

The bookstore includes Doutor's upmarket Excelsior Cafe. Although customers can not read books from the shelves before purchasing, they can read purchased books or their own books brought from home.

Bunkyodo runs two book cafes with Doutor in Tokyo -- one in Shinbashi and the other in Ichigaya. The Shinbashi store opens at 7:30 a.m., attracting business people who stop at the cafe before work, a company official said. The company said it hopes to increase the number of such book cafes gradually.

Other bookstores that offer similar services include Yaesu Book Center near JR Tokyo Station. It has a reading space on the seventh floor where customers can sit and read a book for 200 yen per day. Although the space is now closed due to a special event, it will open again in early January.

Libro bookstore in Ikebukuro also offers a reading space where tables and chairs are placed inside the shop, while Aoyama Book Center, which is open late in Tokyo's Roppongi district, provides chairs and a browser-friendly atmosphere.

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