Jongno Books relaunched as modern meeting place


The main floor of the newly opened Jongno Books introduces a wide selection of books in a space with high ceilings and ambient lighting.

In the neighborhood of Jongno, once known as the capital’s haven for bookworms, a new bookstore with a mountain of history has reopened its doors to the public.

Jongno Books (종로서적), which had its grand opening on Dec. 23, is located in the basement of Jongno Tower, just a few steps from Jonggak Station. The bookstore, imbued with modern aesthetics, has warm ambient lighting and plenty of surfaces on which to read books, including a long wooden table and secluded reading stations for lone wolves. A cafe on the first floor makes coffee a major part of the book browsing experience.

At first glance, it seems unlikely that this modern bookstore could date back almost a hundred years, but it’s true. Jongno Books first opened its doors back in 1907 in the Jongno 2-ga district, across the street from its present-day location. Over the years, the bookstore became a landmark, a kind of cultural symbol in the world of publishing. In the days of no internet or cell phones, it also became the designated meeting place where people young and old would agree to meet. Upon entering the 2000s, however, Jongno Books, like many other bookstores around the world, couldn’t quite compete with the surge of online retailers and sadly shut its doors in 2002.


A long wooden table, surrounded by tall bookshelves, stacked with hundreds of titles, invites readers to sit down with a cup of coffee and enjoy a few hours of getting lost in the world of literature.

Most stories about bookstores back in the day end there. Thankfully, Jongno Books, with support from a number of determined people in publishing, was able to relaunch its brand again, 14 years after shutting down. What motivated the bookstore to restock and greet the public once more? What has changed?

“The old Jongno Books was Korea’s first bookstore and a source of knowledge from the 1960s through to the 1980s. Times have changed since then, obviously, as there are now so many ways to gain information in the age of the internet. Jongno Books, reopened for this new generation, strives to be a place where you can read books while drinking coffee, where readers can meet people and form bonds with those around them,” said Park Lae-poong, a manager at Jongno Books.

Though the bookstore has only been open for a fortnight, it seems the place is slowly settling into its new role. “I dropped by the bookstore today to see what kind of books on education were being sold,” said Kim Young Han, a principal at Busan’s Namseong Elementary School who was in Seoul for a short visit. “I remember the days of the old Jongno Books. It was a place I made sure to visit whenever I was in town. It looks like the new bookstore has transformed into a place of healing for the new generation, with people studying and reading books here for pleasure. I’ll make sure to remind my students of the importance of reading when classes start again,” he said.


Park Lae-poong, a manager at Jongno Books, says that, ‘The new Jongno Books strives to be a place where you can read books while drinking coffee; where readers can meet people and form bonds with those around them.’

A defining feature of the new bookstore is its devotion to its female readership. The bookstore is smaller than some of the other mega bookstores in the neighborhood, but it prides itself on having a selection of books that cater specifically to women. In the bookstore’s main area, visitors can find six different book stations, categorized by age groups ranging from teenage girls to women in their 60s. “In an age where feminism has entered the limelight, it’s great to see books displayed here that deal with issues related to the modern woman,” said Shin Hyemi, a first-time customer at Jongno Books. “I do hope, though, that in the future, books with stronger feminist messages will be introduced on these shelves, as well,” she added.

“We currently carry some 100,000 titles in 60,000 different genres, and of these we try to recommend bestsellers and books that we think would be interesting to female readers,” said manager Park. “We’re still working on nine of the big shelf-displays on the main floor. We’re still in the initial stages of opening, so there’s still a lot that needs to be worked on. I ask that our customers bear with us and stand by our side in the months ahead,” he said.

By Lee Hana Staff Writer
Photos: Jeon Han Photographer

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