Paying homage to the «old Shanghai», the bookstore creates peace and nostalgia through the preservation of the Blackstone Apartments building and its product curation
Shanghai, 25 February, 2021. Named after a Chinese aphorism, translated into an English greeting, Nice to Meet You is a bookstore and concept store. The second branch of Nice to Meet You is located inside the Blackstone Apartments building in Shanghai’s Fuxing Zhong Lu district. Part of the Xu Hui music triangle, the bookstore is affiliated with the Xing Fu Li Culture and Innovation Development Co. It was born as a response to the government’s urban renewal project and owner Guo Kui’s ambition to bring arts and culture to the lives of the Chinese public. The store’s manager Pamela Wu tells us, «our boss’ philosophy and belief is to introduce lifestyle proposals to the public through arts and culture initiatives». Kui and his wife are bookstore design fanatics. Their company is a real-estate firm that takes on renovation projects in Shanghai. They were assigned to open a bookstore as part of the government scheme which resulted in Nice to Meet You’s fruition. After the store’s opening, Kui was prompted to continue opening. Pamela says, «we imagine the Blackstone Apartments building chose us».
Built-in 1924, the Blackstone Apartments reside in Shanghai’s former French concession area. They were the first luxury-apartments made for expatriates. The apartment complex has had an affinity with the arts since its start. In 1925, the management hosted their first art exhibition with American painter Ralph S. Rowntree. Before July 2019, the six-story apartment building wasn’t open to the public. The first floor is accessible for non-residents of the building. The Baroque-apartment is one of its kind remaining in Shanghai. The entrance of the bookstore borrows from classical-design elements and opens to a French-style archway. The archway extends forward and is accented throughout the space. Each arch act’s as a doorway to keep an open-concept space for their seven rooms. The rooms include the music room, music and art collection room, cultural collection room, two living rooms, an exhibition room, and the children’s room. «The archway design allows us to separate the rooms while maintaining a connection in the bookstore». Customers have mentioned that the archways create a maze-like feeling which was an intentional-component in their design process. According to the team, the maze aids in creating a connected landscape for Nice to Meet You and acts as a means to slow down. Time stops for those inside. «It allows our customers to experience getting ‘lost’, to relax, appreciate and indulge in the products offered». The site preserves the wooden windows with metal frames as a way to inform the public of Shanghai’s history. «It’s a renovation project but the building has its character. We wanted to preserve and connect its history with the present». Remnant and star of the show is the turquoise-patterned mosaic flooring that has been restored with tiles in the same color and design. «The mosaic floor inside the Blackstone Apartments is ninety-six-years-old. The ones in our bookstore have been recovered and are a year old». Conservative with their color choice, the store uses the turquoise from the floor pattern to accent their ribbed-square wall panels. It is accompanied by a white backdrop. «Each floor of the building has a dedicated mosaic floor pattern, but shares the turquoise color. This is why we chose it for our store». For their book displays and shelving, Nice to Meet You opts for pale-brown wood.
Following suit with its neighbors, Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and the Shanghai Music College, their Blackstone Apartments branch theme, is inspired from music. The bookstore has decorated their corridor with paintings of Beethoven, Chopin and Xian Xinghai. They have included oil paintings of the saxophone in the children’s room. The music room is decorated with vinyl records from local and international artists of every caliber. The team recommends three vinyl records each day and supplies headphones for customers to listen to before purchase. The two living rooms are filled with knick-knacks and products. The cultural-collection room has a sofa set, television, two bookshelves on opposite ends of the room, and a desk. The idea was to allow their customers to take a breather. The music and art collection room are where their visitors can find English and Chinese literature books. The children’s room is set with books and products like toy building blocks. Through an arch, the bookstore leads to a coffee shop, Drops that is available to customers. The coffee-space was once a pool that has been transformed through the renewal initiative. The cafe has mosaic flooring with turquoise color accents to match that of the space. They play the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra’s melodies. Discussing the curation of the store, Pamela divulges, «the records we carry are due to demand. We prefer symphony records and have vinyl and gramophone records in our bookstore». Nice to Meet You considers trends by showcasing Chinese talent whom they believe their customer base should be aware of. «We have a reality TV show in China that exhibits bands whose records we get in-store». The bookstore provides books focused on architecture, art, Chinese literature, and English literature including those from the Penguin and Macmillan Collector’s Library. The bookstore’s location attracts tourists and expatriates. In service of these customers, Nice to Meet You offers English translations for their Chinese books. «We curate our books for our stores based on the location taking a number of factors into consideration. Our product management is valuable to our process». Product quantities differ based on the time of year, «we refresh the quantities of books and products according to the operating data in that period». The selection of books and products are a parallel between stores but they take the architecture into consideration to provide exclusive-books for each store. Their customer base are individuals looking for variant services, «everyone has their needs. Some come to take photos to post online because of the floor and some come to read and buy books as gifts or for themselves». They are convinced their commerce team is what provides the customer service to meet their followers needs.
The second branch of Nice to Meet You opened in late March 2020 amidst the Covid-19 pandemic which aided their store’s growth. Nice to Meet You acted as a sanctuary during the pandemic. «In China, when the virus became stable in late March, people could not go abroad. Our bookstore’s location and connections attracted customers to visit the space». She continues to tell us that their reputation before the second branch helped them, «when our first branch opened, it won a prize. When our Blackstone store opened three years later, it did well as a result». Their customers differ due to the locations of the bookstores. ‘Online celebrity’ concept stores are a trend in China where design and ‘Instagram-ability’ has been placed above the quality of products. Due to its architecture and design, Nice to Meet You has been described as an ‘online celebrity’ bookstore. Pamela and the team see it as an advantage, «our store facilitates customers who want to take photos for their social media. It’s a way for us to market ourselves». The marketing tactic works during May and October due to the heat. Though she is assured that the two bookstores can suggest alternative-lifestyle suggestions to their customers, their Blackstone store is geared toward the arts. «In our two living rooms, we offer lectures about the arts and film screenings. Our exhibition-centered living room hosts shows about art». Nice to Meet You will be hosting an exhibition involving Russian artist, Wassily Kandinsky’s work and lectures on architecture and design. Nice to Meet You wants to supply the Chinese youth with products they cannot find in competitor bookstores. Pamela conveys, their practice resides in customer service and nurturing awareness through their products and space design. In 2021, Nice to Meet You will be opening two branches in Shanghai featuring local and international artworks. They hope to create a standardized harmony between the four stores and accompany them with a digital store.
The bookstore chain in Shanghai, is focused on providing music, art, design books and products to the citizens of China and the expatriate residents. The store acts as an event space for workshops, seminars and activities related to music, art and literature. Nice to Meet You hopes to remind and assist people in the act of slowing down. Their two stores are located in the Zhǎngníng and Fu Xing Zhong Lu districts. Two branches will join them this year.IMAGE GALLERY
Nice to Meet You
1/F, 1331 Fuxing Zhong Lu
Inside Blackstone Apartment
Old Xuhui, Xuhui District