Busan Korea’s Bosu Book Street is a narrow, 200-meter-long alley lined on both sides with small indie bookstores. The bookshop enclave in Bosu-dong was created when a refugee family from North Korea started selling secondhand books and periodicals there when Busan became the country’s provisional capital during the 1950-53 Korean War.
Over time more than 70 bookshops were opened in the neighborhood surrounding Bosu Book Street. But in the last decade the number of independent bookstores on Bosu Book Street has fallen by more than half due to the expansion of chain bookstores and e-books. Now just 30 bookstores remain on the road.
There have been efforts to preserve the street’s historical value and distinct identity. In 2019, Busan Metropolitan City designated the bookstore alley as Busan’s Future Heritage for playing a symbolic role as a major cultural space for book lovers over seven decades.
Last month a book-themed cafe called Scoula di Atene (The School of Athens) with a facade shaped like a row of large books on a shelf opened in Bosu-dong in an attempt to revive the street. The owner Kim Dae-kwon said he initially planned to build a 15-story multi-purpose building with residential and commercial units. However, after realizing the historical significance of Bosu Book Street, he changed his mind and remodeled the building into a cultural complex.
“I was later convinced that Bosu Book Street needed to continue its legacy because it’s more than a place where you can buy books. It’s a place of living history. It has survived a turbulent history, touched lives and benefited communities around Bosu-dong. I used to come here to buy school and university textbooks.”
Kim designed the first floor to accommodate three independent bookstores ― Woori Geulbang, Gukje Bookstore and Chungnam Bookstore. From the second to the fourth floor is a cafe.
I’m so sad this area is loosing its identity. It was one of the delights of Busan when we were there some 7 years ago.