At a time when physical bookstores are becoming a relic of the past, The Reading Café is bringing back the joy of browsing books and the discovery of unexpected delights
It is often said that when one earnestly wants something, the entire universe conspires in helping to achieve it. And this adage holds for Atikur Rahman, the founder and the chief executive officer of The Reading Café, which has gone on to become a cherished sanctuary for Dhaka’s book lovers.
In 2014, not too long after finishing his studies, Rahman started The Reading Café, a place where bibliophiles can pick up 40,000-50,000 titles, sit down with a cup of coffee and snacks and get lost in the words and pages.
At a time when physical bookstores were becoming a relic of the past, it is safe to say that The Reading Café came, saw and conquered, bent on bringing back the joy of browsing books and the discovery of unexpected delights.
“I left my private-sector job because I knew the dignity and respect my business would bring me can never be found elsewhere,” Rahman told Dhaka Tribune.
The company, which has a rich collection of imported old and new books for adults and children alike, saw 20 per cent growth in each year and today has four branches in Banani, Uttara, Science Laboratory and Gulshan.
The latest branch -- in Banani -- opened on February 5, when the country is still in the middle of the global coronavirus pandemic, which precipitated the shift to e-commerce for buying books.
But the pandemic was not without challenges for The Reading Café, whose entire selling point is rooted in the physical experience.
Instead of sinking, the company chose to swim: it dialled up its online operations for its books that it brings in from India.
“We reached out to our loyal customers through the online platforms, Facebook and our website, when the lockdown started. And they did not let us die,” he said, adding that its customer base trebled during the pandemic.
The company though had to let go of a portion of its roster of employees and make do with just 12 of them.
The countrywide shutdown to flatten the curve of coronavirus, which lingers on surfaces for hours, was lifted on May 30 after two-and-a-half months, The Reading Café did not re-open its doors to customers straight away.
It waited until September last year, when people were more comfortable in venturing outside of their homes.
“While the pandemic has nudged us towards e-commerce, our stores are for enjoying in person, so getting customers to walk through the door is our number one priority right now.”
The four branches, which promise an intimate, ordered surrounding, host about 100-120 people each day.
“I am waiting for schools and universities to reopen as students are our main customers,” he said, adding that the company has hired 13 more people now.