PASSPORT BOOKSHOP
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Passport Bookshop, Bangkok. Championing reading with travel related books

Choosing not to cross swords with subsisting bookstores in terms of quantity, Founder Noom made the choice to showcase and sell books of quality instead

Located in the Old Town of Bangkok, amongst the greenery and buildings of the past is Passport Bookshop. An independent-bookstore managed by partners Amnat Rattanamanee and Piyolos Ngamvilaikon, preferred to be addressed as Noom and Yo, they opened the store in the year 2001. About to celebrate their twentieth anniversary, the ingenuity of opening the bookstore was a means to make Noom’s dream a reality. «I was a white-collar worker prior to owning the bookstore. I was affiliated with Channel News Asia and the World Bank of Bangkok. Prior to quitting these jobs, I began to question how I could commercialize my hobby of book reading into a profession». Not having an answer, a friend had approached him with an empty lot in the Old Town of Bangkok, urging him to utilize the space. It was then, with the help of his partner Yo, whom he met while pursuing his degree in political sciences at Thammasat University, that the bookstore was founded. «My girlfriend and I came up with the idea to open the bookstore after the space was presented to us. A passion for reading was the qualification that I needed to become a bookstore owner». He was faced with the obstacle of finding a position for their bookstore alongside bookstores in Bangkok. At the time, independent bookstores were not a norm. «We had to compete by creating a vocation to stand out», says Noom.

Choosing not to cross swords with subsisting bookstores in terms of quantity, Noom made the choice to showcase and sell books of quality instead. The name of the store is a commendation to Noom’s library – books that are centered around and inspire travel. Being surrounded by expatriates and tourists, prior to COVID-19, «I noticed that the travelers that visit Bangkok are in their youth and while they do not have an abundance of money, they follow through with their travels. I see the motivation in a person to travel regardless of hurdles. This comes from the stories that they have read. Be it poetry, fiction and non-fiction novels or travel books. Books are a force that motivate travel». Upon deciding the niche for books to carry in the store, the owners thought to name it Passport Bookshop. The idea behind the name was a play of words, borrowed from the Thai language where the word passport, when broken down into a subject and verb, would loosely translate to ‘travel book’ in English. Noom views the importance of a passport as a form of literature that reflects the subject of travel. «If you need a passport to travel from one country to another, you need knowledge of a destination before you go there». The theme that structures Passport Bookshop comes from the essence of turning a vocation into a craft. In its infancy, there were customers who shared their trepidations in regard to the bookstore’s longevity, but Noom states that after twenty years of being in the book selling trade, it is possible to keep a bookstore running. «You can survive, but you need to know how to make it». Noom shares that with his adoration for books and Yo’s business mindset, they were able to persevere through the years. While he vets and chooses the titles that are placed in store, Yo manages the book-keeping and helps operate the store. Yo’s rule entails not using one’s phones and taking pictures, placed at the entrance of the store, and Noom’s has delivered a silent reading section upstairs and a library of books arranged on a surfeit number of shelves and tables for reading purposes or purchase.

In determining the titles, which Noom vets individually, «I see travel as a three-step practice. First, you travel, then you are stimulated and from that, you learn. We use this same process and mindset in choosing the books to be put into our store. Apart from carrying travel books and guides, we stock poetry, novels and non-fiction books involving aspects of travel and information about countries. We carry art magazines related to travel». Browsing through books that he finds online and word of mouth from customers and peers, is how Noom chooses the books for Passport Bookshop. He purchases English novels from book sales. Thai books are bought from book agents or suppliers. Driven by the lack of reading culture in the Thai community, Noom has since set out to plateau the people of Bangkok and Thailand to read by using his bookstore as that platform. The choice for the placement of Passport Bookshop to be in the Old Town of Bangkok was a retaliation against chain bookstores that are set in shopping malls.

First floor passport bookstore
A silent reading section upstairs, Passport Bookshop

The placement of these chain bookstores, while available to those in the city, are not accessible to communities that live in the suburbs. «If you wish to encourage people to read, you should bring books to them. People in communities do not want to buy books every day or buy books for leisure, due to the lack of reading culture inculcated. Placing a bookstore in a community, where if people were to visit on their volition, witnessing individuals enter the store could urge them to mimic this behavior». Before being presented the space in the Old Town, the two owners had planned out their business model, centering it around bridging accessibility of reading to the community. As this was their source of income, choosing a location that would bring in customers was of importance to the sustainability of the bookstore. Considering these factors, the choice to place Passport Bookshop in the Old Town, where it is surrounded by the old-temple, the river and the park was a fit into the vernacular. A location that could draw in a surplus of visitors, was fundamental to the survival of the store. Pushing to survive as a bookstore, the bookstore faced the issue of rent, «for the first four years, we had to keep the store open seven days a week. We did overcome this hurdle after a period of time, implementing a work-life balance».

Prior to the global pandemic, a significant number of tourists and locals were customers. Carrying titles on travel related literature drew customers in. «We carry an estimate of forty percent of English language novels and the rest, are Thai language novels centering travel». The number of books reflected the customers that walked into the store. The descent into idleness caused by the pandemic did impact the store, but they were able to reform themselves when the lockdown restrictions were lifted. «Before the pandemic, if we had fifty customers in the store, twenty of them would make a purchase. Post-lockdown, every customer who came into the store purchased a book». Exchanging conversations with the patrons made the owners understand and grasp that the atmosphere of Passport Bookshop was a congregation for human interaction. The bookstore carries artisanal handcrafted goods made by artists based in Thailand. The first floor is home to a reading space. Known as the Silent Café, the space hosts an area to showcase artists in a gallery-like exhibitionist format, an event space for those who wish to host from within the store. Book signings and jazz events held every year are open to the public. Customers can purchase a cup of coffee, made by Noom, who is a trained barista, and continue to seek refuge with the books. Maintaining social sustainability for the youth and championing reading as a stand-alone bookstore in Bangkok is how Noom and Yo set have themselves apart. Crafting Passport Bookshop into a destination engraved in culture, a number of customers are friends with the owners, as they present themselves to be a family-oriented bookstore.

The store was designed by Noom, employing contractors from the locality to assist with the wiring and plumbing as the building is over one-hundred years old. Preserving the structural integrity of the building, Passport Bookshop shares a coterie with establishments in the area. Since the opening of the store, Noom has witnessed an improvement in the reading scene. The number of independent-bookstores since the opening of Passport Bookshop has increased. Existing prior to the boom of the internet, «those looking to know about a topic can search the internet to get a result, but those who are hungry for knowledge and want to learn would walk into a bookstore like ours». Noom shares that customers who consume and read online content insist on possessing tangible material, such as a book. Passport Bookshop, is looking forward to publishing a book under Noom’s name, focusing on the people who come into the bookstore.

IMAGE GALLERY

Passport Bookshop
523 Prasumeru Rd.
Bowornnivej, Pranakorn
Bangkok, Thailand

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