In a business venture that fits the trappings of an adventure story, a Pune-based couple who run a brick-and-mortar bookstore have expanded into new space despite two tough years of the pandemic. This happened even as many stand-alone bookstores closed across the country and the world.
Neha and Vishal Pipraiya launched the Pagdandi Bookstore Cafe in August 2013 as a lending library with their personal collection of titles. The books for sale numbered only 500 and took up a few shelves from floor to ceiling. The new outlet, which opened this month, will offer more than 5,000 titles. “For us, books represent a very beautiful way of life. With Pagdandi, which means hard path, we try to encourage people to slow down and take time to have a cup of tea or coffee and walk,” says Neha.
The evolution from a lending library to a full fledged bookstore happened during Covid when Pagdandi released an excel sheet with their titles for people to buy – and thus increase their income. “We understood the logistics of deliveries. People started ordering and we opened a bookstore. It kept growing as we got a good response,” she adds.
After the pandemic, when the bookstore reopened, staff found that many customers were tired of screen time and came to buy old-fashioned books, spending time browsing the shelves and selecting works.
“After Covid, we were able to grow the bookstore section from just two shelves to eight by sacrificing cafe space, but our overall revenue remained low compared to pre-pandemic. The whole Covid period has been very difficult for us financially,” says Vishal.
They found that the bookstore and café could not flourish in one space. “Many customers expressed their feeling that they did not feel satisfied with the café or the bookshop and that is why we decided to open a new shop. We hope that within a year we can make the new store sustainable,” he adds.
With the new bookshop, the old space will be dedicated to food and drink, with a reading area. “We’ve worked with brands that focus on sustainability. The milk used in our coffee is organic and the brand that supplies us with the coffee follows fair trade practices,” says Neha.
Conservation is one of Pagdandi’s strengths, and the new store will have sections such as Indian fiction, lots of translations, politics, gender studies, children’s literature, art, film, history and travel, among others. “We have a science fiction section, which we are trying to expand. We also try to get rare books as well as graphic novels,” she adds.
By December, events such as poetry readings, which have drawn packed houses and featured prominent figures, are expected to resume. “We believe in working with communities working with people. We will evaluate our performance after six months, then after a year. Starting a big bookstore is a gamble, and we also want to see what happens next,” says Vishal.