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Sunday March 27, 2016
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The Popular bookstore branch at the Art Deco-style Lee Rubber Building is a familiar landmark in the Petaling Street area. — Picture by Choo Choy MayThe Popular bookstore branch at the Art Deco-style Lee Rubber Building is a familiar landmark in the Petaling Street area. — Picture by Choo Choy MayKUALA LUMPUR, March 27 — With its cheerful yellow facade, Popular Bookstore in Petaling Street was not just the go-to place for books and stationery — it was also a very helpful landmark.

However, Popular Book Co (M) Sdn Bhd will be closing this branch next month, after having served one million customers in 13 years.

Popular said it had to make the difficult decision of shuttering its two-storey bookstore branch located in the iconic Lee Rubber Building along Jalan Tun H.S. Lee, owing to changes in demand in the area popularly referred to as Chinatown.

There has also been talk that the Lee Rubber Building itself has been sold, but Malay Mail Online was unable to get confirmation from its owners.

“Over the past decade, Petaling Street’s surrounding environment faced drastic changes, causing the customer profile in this area to go the same way,” Popular’s senior business development manager Siew Sheue Liang told Malay Mail Online in an email recently.

Siew added that new shopping malls in the KL area were also “pulling away the customer base from Petaling Street.”

In the end, the decision to close the store was made because “the outlet is unable to operate efficiently… The decision is hard as most business owners would not simply give up an old shop.”

He called it a necessary business decision even though “to us, our customers were like our family members.”Customers looking out for good deals at the Lee Rubber Building branch’s Everything Must Go sale that started last February 26. — Picture by Choo Choy MayCustomers looking out for good deals at the Lee Rubber Building branch’s Everything Must Go sale that started last February 26. — Picture by Choo Choy May

For Siew, the Lee Rubber Building branch which opened in 2003 is personally significant as this was where his career with Popular began “and this is why I have such sentimental feelings towards this place.”

The closing of the store also marks the closing of a chapter in Popular’s story, one that is deeply rooted in the area.

Popular’s first outlet was in Damansara Jaya — it opened in 1983 — but this was closed due to poor sales. That was when they opened their second outlet at Jalan Hang Lekir.

Siew said the success of the Jalan Hang Lekir outlet pushed Popular Holdings Limited chairman Chou Cheng Ngok to branch out to other parts of Kuala Lumpur, expanding Popular to 89 outlets. The Malaysian Book of Records lists Popular as the largest bookstore chain in Malaysia.

In 2008 to 2009, Popular held a sale at its two-storey Jalan Hang Lekir branch in the Petaling Street area, before combining all its operations in the neighbourhood into the Lee Rubber Building outlet just one street away.

“Instead of managing two outlets at the same area, we chose to have this one at Lee Rubber as the total space is much bigger than the combined four-storey outlet at Hang Lekir, to manage the business more efficiently,” Siew said.After 25 years of operations, Popular's outlet at Jalan Hang Lekir was moved to the Lee Rubber Building outlet in 2009. — Picture courtesy of Popular Book Co (M) Sdn BhdAfter 25 years of operations, Popular's outlet at Jalan Hang Lekir was moved to the Lee Rubber Building outlet in 2009. — Picture courtesy of Popular Book Co (M) Sdn Bhd

And now as the countdown begins to Popular’s last day of operations on April 10 at the Lee Rubber Building, the bookstore is holding a closing-down sale as a “small token of appreciation by the Management to all our loyal customers.”

A series of Farewell Treats Promotions runs from March 25 to April 10.

Currently, Popular has 27 outlets in the Klang Valley area with more in the pipeline. “For those in city centre, probably the one in Avenue K or Sunway Putra would be convenient,” Siew said.

Popular’s customers can also look forward to a new 16,000 square feet outlet to be opened later this year at Sunway Velocity Mall in Cheras, he added.Popular’s Mr Siew Sheue Liang said it was sad that Popular had to move out from the Petaling Street area where it had first branched out to its current status as Malaysia’s largest book store chain. — Picture courtesy of Popular Book Co (M) Sdn BhdPopular’s Mr Siew Sheue Liang said it was sad that Popular had to move out from the Petaling Street area where it had first branched out to its current status as Malaysia’s largest book store chain. — Picture courtesy of Popular Book Co (M) Sdn Bhd

The five-storey Lee Rubber Building is a heritage building constructed in the Art Deco style and was put up for sale last year.

Peter Hoe Evolution and Beyond, a lifestyle store and cafe on the second floor which is very popular with expatriates and locals alike, did not want to comment when asked about their plans for the store.

Then there is Pusat Tuisyen Kasturi, a well-established tuition centre chain in the Klang Valley, which occupies the third and final floor of the Lee Rubber Building.

When contacted, a staff member who only gave her name as Jaya confirmed that the tuition centre will be moving within the next two months to an unspecified location within the same area. She said the centre has been at the Lee Rubber Building for about 12 to 13 years.

Listed by the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) as a Category 2 historical building, the Lee Rubber Building’s entire facade must be conserved by its owners.

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