Oct 30, 2023

Visit to Apollo Book Store, Mahabalipuram

 During our recent trip to Chennai, we visited the historical town of Mahabalipuram. While googling for the places to visit, I stumbled upon "Apollo bookstore". It was around 11 AM when I walked down the road that has many cafes, gift shops, and boutique stores. An elderly man was cleaning the front side of the bookstore with the shutters closed. I asked him, "When will the shop open?". He requested me to wait for a couple of minutes as he opened and cleared a few items for me to enter. He also placed a small bench for me to sit and browse the pile of books stacked up on the floor.

I spent the next 30 minutes, browsing through his collection of various books. While billing, I had a short conversation with him in Tamil. Here's how it went:

Apollo Store Owner Mr Kumaresan (AK): "Sorry madam. there's so much dust. I haven't cleaned the shop in the last few days. I didn't even arrange the second-hand books neatly. I just stashed them in heaps"

Me: "That's okay. People who love books don't mind digging around to find gems"

AK: "Many tourists used to visit earlier. Now, look at this street. Totally empty. Many have shut shop"

Me: "Why? Isn't this tourist season?"

AK: "Many backpackers used to visit this town earlier. I did very good business. But due to Covid and the current geopolitical situation, there are hardly any backpacker tourists."

Me: "What about the local tourists? I noticed quite a lot of crowd near Shore temple"

AK: "Except for a few people like you, no local tourists would visit a bookstore, madam. They come to see these monuments and return. But backpackers always carry a book with them and sit in a cafe or by the beach and read. I have books in 18 different languages. There were times when I was one of the leading sellers of coffee table books in India. Now the business has reduced so drastically. If it was just a business with money-making intentions, I would have moved on to something else. But this bookstore is my passion. I don't want to let it go. "Aasai aasaiya seyara business ipdi dullaa poiduchenu nenaichu nenaichu odambukku vandhirichu (All the stress has resulted in physical ailments). I have also taken up a part-time job. I feel so bad to let these books gather dust."

Me: "I'll try to spread the word. Please don't lose hope"

Offline bookstores run by small business owners can survive only if we support them. Large chains like Crosswords will diversify or move onto some other lucrative business.

If you are visiting Mahabalipuram, do take the time to visit this cozy, little book store - Apollo Books, Othavadai Street.

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