Just like Asian convenience stories hit different, and Asian food courts take things to a whole other level, Asian bookstores are on a completely different plane of reality compared to the chain bookstores in the US, or even the beautiful old bookstores of Europe. Bookstores in Asia are institutions in themselves. Modern, cosmopolitan, evoking not an intellectual, cultured, romanticized lifestyle but one that fits seamlessly into the contemporary everyday rhythm of a bustling Asian city.
The comprehensive collection of books that span Chinese literature, translated pieces and a decent selection of English and Japanese language publications, is only a small part of the story. Founded in 1989, Eslite has grown to be a prolific part of everyday Taiwanese life, and it’s not just fueled by the local’s love for reading. Eslite is bustling as a place to read and purchase books, sure, but it is more of a meeting place, a shopping place, a place to spend time by yourself, with friends, with family. It plays a specific role in Taiwanese society. Sure, reading is a part of the lifestyle but you don’t see people reading on the subway (the smartphone addiction in Asia is next level), but buying books is a part of the lifestyle that doesn’t quite exist anymore in the US where Amazon has taken over. Eslite is the one stop shop for purchasing books, for finding what to read next, for picking up the latest issue of a magazine (print magazines still thrive in Asia).
But like I said before, the very organized shelves sectioned into neat categories are a small part of what Eslite does. Eslite is a cultural hub for Taiwan. Where media and retail blend seamlessly. In many of the locations, Eslite is set up more like a department store than a bookstore. Spanning several floors, often with a section dedicated to local makers and brands (from arts and crafts to groceries and pantry), usually some kind of cafe within the book section, music, film and more. Oh, and of course there’s a food court because we’re in Taiwan, you have to have a food court.
Over the years, Eslite has become a given. In every corner of Taiwan, if it seems like a culture-forward commercial hub, you expect some kind of Eslite presence. In Songshan Cultural Park in Taipei, it manifests as a full blown mall and hotel. In Pier2 in Kaohsiung, it takes over a former warehouse space and fills it with a rotating cast of kitschy design stalls. In shopping districts like Zhongshan and Xinyi, Eslite rises ground up as standalone buildings among department stores with restaurants, shops and food courts that rival those of Shin Kong Mitsukoshi. Smaller, more book-forward footprints have taken over the underground malls of Taipei, with ambitious expansions beyond Taiwan too.
These days, Eslite comes in many forms, but the brand is consistent in its curated commitment to cultural evolution and its influence on modern Taiwanese lifestyle. And even though the original, famous 24 hour shop in Da An closed in 2020, the ethos continues to live on in its 44 stores. What began as a western-inspired bookstore and gallery has become a prolific part of everyday life in Taiwan and evolved far beyond its inspiration to be decidedly Taiwanese.
|Hours||varies by location, most keep department store hours of 10ish to 10ish, the xinyi location 3rd floor bookstore is open 24 hours|
|Price||$$ – books are pretty much market price; other shops and restaurants are comparable to typical department store prices|
|Aesthetic||clean and contemporary|
Go here for: books, events, shopping, eating, even sleeping if you go to the hotel
Don’t miss: the Xinyi location has a full on market within the bookstore, even if you’re not looking for groceries, it’s a vibe
Amount of time to spend: you could probably spend an entire day here if you wanted
When to come: never a wrong time to come – whether it’s purpose driven or just to kill time, Eslite is a good time anytime
Getting here: all the locations are very easily accessible; Taipei locations are almost all directly connected to MRT stations
Other things to note:
Last visited: September 2021
Last updated: October 2021