Saigon bookseller fuels thirst for books

With over 10,000 books on offer, Le Ba Tan allows his customers to bring books to exchange for a cup of coffee every weekend.

Located at 50 Nguyen Khac Nhu Street in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City, an old bookstore has been renovated into a cozy two story coffee shop.

The coffee shop covers only 60 square meters but houses around 10,000 books, stored in ceiling high shelves over four years.

"I only put the most recommended books on the shelves. I want my customers to draw valuable knowledge from each page," said Le Ba Tan, the 32-year-old shop owner, who used to be a high school teacher. During downtime, he categorizes and mends old books. 

To spread knowledge and the love of reading, every weekend, Tan allows his customers to bring books to exchange for a cup of coffee. Any kind of genre can be brought here to exchange, including comic books and textbooks.

"I have read these books before and I find it’s very interesting, so I want to bring them to the shop so that others could read them too. In exchange, not only can I have a free drink, but also read more captivating books," said Dang Ngoc Hong Hanh, 25, who visited the coffee shop for the first time to exchange two books.

If preferred, customers can pay VND10,000 ($0.43) to stay and read a book without ordering a drink.

For two consecutive Sundays, Tran Van Luyen, 78, who lives ten kilometers away, asked his family to drive him to the store to exchange books.

This time he brought along a comic book.

"I go here every weekend and spend about three hours to read. I don’t care about the genre, I read all books that are interesting to me. In here, everyone is focusing on their reading, making me feel more comfortable," he said.

Every weekend, the coffee shop sets up a small bookshelf that contains around 100 books for people to grab free of charge.

"Everyone can get one book they like, though some guests take more. I’m not too worried about losing books, just afraid guests might not read them," said the shop owner.

Hanging on the stairs leading to the second floor, exclusively used for reading, are music posters, old book covers, and old paintings, adding a nostalgic touch.

The second floor is simply decorated with some small tables and corner bookshelves. It is very quiet so customers can focus on their books or work.

Valuable books are secured inside glass shelves.

There is a small room with a bigger table for one family or small group of friends.

"We take our son here every weekend so he can read more and spend less time in front of the screen. There are many different kinds of books carefully classified by the owner," said Yen, from District 8.

Drinks include ginger tea, jasmine butterfly pea tea, milk coffee, kudzu, and passion fruit juice, priced from VND20,000 ($0.87) to VND39,000 ($1.7).