PhotoPhoto Essay
Secondhand bookstoresLet's go to the Treasure Island where many rare valubles are buried.
Doh Sang-youp Reporter  |
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승인 2005.06.01  00:00:00
트위터 페이스북 구글 카카오스토리

DID YOU like to go "Treasure-hunting" in your childhood? Do you remember the joy you experienced when you found things that were hidden? It is an unforgettable memory when you found treasures papers which were concealed between boughs and under rocks. As we become adults, however, we hardly find treasures in our monotonous daily lives. For some people who are bored of these lives, here is good news. The secondhand bookstores have many treasures which will make you happy.

▲ The street of Cheonggye chen is a representative place for selling secondhand books.
In secondhand bookstores, you can buy all kinds of books at an extremely cheap price. They provide used textbooks, exercise books for middle or high school students, rare books about cultural and social science, and even expensive cookbooks for house keepers at a really low price. In here, you can meet special and old books that you cannot find in normal bookstores; books that are out of print, and that were published a long time ago. Moreover when you read secondhand books, you may find interesting notes on some pages inside. Smelling antique paper's scent will make you feel absorbed in the memories of the past. Worn-out book stands, old signboards, and a stack of books are symbols of a secondhand bookstore. These things make the generation of today's parents reflect upon their past and children become fascinated with the unique atmosphere. Jo Han-young, a visitor, says, "I visit secondhand bookstores every two weeks. I'm a historical-minded person and have a special interest in the ancient history of Korea. Here, I can meet rare historical books and study many things that are hidden. I know that many valuables are buried here. If you spend time here, you will become interested in this shop."

▲ This street is covered with the scent of secondhand books.
Then, do you know where these stores are? The street of Cheonggye chen is a representative place for selling secondhand books. This place was formed almost spontaneously, 50 years ago. At one time, about 150 stores had businesses here and people from all over the country visited Cheonggyechen. Recently, this street has lost many business and just 51 stores are carrying on their business due to the following reasons; such as the "Cheonggyechen Restoration Project" and the failure to capture people's attention. Though they stand in bad condition, however, many shop keepers look on the bright side of future. Hyun Man-su, who is owner of the "Christian Sung-mun Bookstore" located on Cheonggyechen Street since 1981 says "We have been doing business here for a long time, during many bad situations, just because we love books and know the scent from a great book." According to him, specialization is their survival method during the current condition. Actually, in Cheonggyechen, most stores specialize in one or two specific areas; computer, Christian, design and books in foreign languages. Bookstores that do not specialize did not survive.

▲ People absorbed in reading: When you find books that could make you merry, stop and read them.
Surprisingly, you can find these secondhand bookstores easily in your area. Shinchon Street achieves fame as the "Fashion Center of Korea," and secondhand bookstores don't seem to be suitable for this street. But did you know that a few used-book stores have been in this Shinchon for a long time? Gong's Bookstore and Hidden-books Bookstore are excellent examples of secondhand bookstore in Shinchon Street.

These stores have their own unique atmospheres. Gong's Bookstore was opened by Gong Jin-suk, who started this shop at Gwanghwamun. After he died, this shop moved to Shinchon and his cousins are currently managing this shop. This shop is famous for art books, especially design, illustration and fashion. In recent times, books about computers and the Internet are mainly sold. This shop also offers for sale 70-80's LPs, 90's cassette tapes and CDs. Seeing old LPs gives our parents' generation a chance to remind themselves of their youth.

Hidden-books Bookstore was founded just six years ago. The owner, Roh Dong-hwan pays meticulous attention to details; many notices for categories are attached on the wall, coffee or green tea is provided for free, and many chairs are placed around the bookstands. This place is famous for its kindness to customers. Roh and his wife have profound knowledge about books, so customers can have a discussion with the owners naturally. Roh says, "As time goes by, the number of student visitors decreases, and that is a pity. They only call our shop when they need to buy textbooks. I hope that university students buy not only textbooks but also books about various topics that are concealed here."

▲ Where is the one who used this book at 1989?

Most secondhand book shops still keep their old features; worn-out book stands, signboards, an entrance door, and the pile of books. These old features may give nostalgia to people; however, it can also be an obstacle in this competitive world. Visitors hardly find their books without asking the owners because owners organize books their own way. Their internal interiors need to be upgraded, and shop keepers should categorize their books and make a book list in order for customers to search easily.

More and more people use the Internet, so they also want to be able to buy old books through the Internet. Some secondhand bookstore's owners attempt to link the offline and online used book market. According to this current trend, Daeyang Bookstore is in the beginning stages. This shop has started an online service ( since 2003, and just provides location, history, and pictures of the shop. On the other hand, "Internet Secondhand Bookstore Goguma" ( is in the advanced level. In this website, you can not only search for books but also order books that you want. The amount of books is unimaginable and new books are updated regularly. This website has even started a delivery service to customers' homes. Overall, these secondhand bookstores' environments have substantially changed.

▲ This drawing by hand can tell visitors where the books are categorized but it is difficult to find the books that you want.
Secondhand bookstores are treasure islands that we can find relatively easily. Who knows, while reading worn books you might accidentally find love letters that someone wrote a few decades ago? This place makes visitors experience the lapse of time. This weekend, how about going to secondhand bookstores with your parents or friends? It will be a good memory to both you and them.

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A signboard that catches visitors' attention. Is it true that this shop sells books at the cheapest price in Seoul?

The owner and a ladder that makes you experience the lapse of time.

The secondhand bookstore is a place where all types of books are available. New books, old books, books in Korean, English, Arabic, books of all genres all co-exist.

It is sure that one from there a stacks of books has been waiting to meet you.