KOCHI: Ask any Kochiite the best locality to buy good garments for affordable rates and almost all of them will point you to Press Club Road near Marine Drive. The area is a mini fashion street, with stores selling retail garments, second-hand clothes and pocket-friendly contemporary designs.
What you probably don’t know is that the place was not always dotted with garment shops. In fact, books, or rather shops selling books, were the main attraction and business there. Writer Vaikom Muhammad Basheer was the first person to own a bookshop on the road, then known as Tourist Bungalow Road. His shop, ‘Basheer’s Book Stall’, was shifted here from Cannon Shed Road in the early 1950s.
Even before him, the collective Sahithya Pravarthaka Sahakarana Sangham had been running National Book Stall (NBS) here. Current Books, started by Thomas Mundassery was also located on the street about 50 years ago.
Soon after Basheer came, the road was renamed ‘Akshara Theruvu’ (Street of Letters). “Writers and readers who wanted to meet and interact with Basheer thronged the street,” recalls C I C C Jayachandran, owner of one of the few bookshops still at Press Club Road.
By 1957, Basheer shifted to Kozhikode, his native place. Post his exit, NBS flourished and became the hangout of every writer who visited Kochi. Sreerama Vilasam Book House and SKV were other major players. Then came Vidyarthimithram Book Depot from Kottayam. They were followed by Vyasa Book House, Cosmo Book House and Janatha Book House.
“Later, NBS faced issues with the building owner and left. Current Books too left due to issues with the Press Club. Later, the branch of Sreerama Vilasam closed down. Vidyarthimithram, Vyasa Book House and one of the branches of Janatha Book House also left. Now, only three of the 10 bookshops are left, besides Blossom, which came in later” said Jayachandran.
When education institutions and hostels came up in the area, the bookshops gave way to stores selling mattresses. A DD Angadi started developing in the nearby street, beginning the road’s metamorphosis into a garment hub. In the late 1990s, the area became a sought-after commercial spot and building rents rose. The bookshops, gradually, replaced with wholesale and retail clothing stores.