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Uijeongbu

Where the Past and Future Coexist

 

2020.11.02

 

 

 

Being a central city in northern Gyeonggi-do Province, Uijeongbu is where nature and history blend together. Indeed, transportation is convenient as the city is near the capital, Seoul. The brand slogan of Uijeongbu, “Uijeongbu, City of Happiness,” exhibits the city’s will to become a city where its citizens are happy. At the center of the city flows Jungnangcheon Stream, which meets the Han River, and Suraksan Mountain and Dobongsan Mountain rise high in the East and West, respectively, which all add up to a balanced mixture of the city and nature. Meanwhile, the name Uijeongbu has a long history. The name derived from a historical incident where the top administrative body “Uijeongbu” moved its base here during the Joseon Dynasty. Being a gateway towards Seoul today, Uijeongbu has settled as a center of politics, economy, society, culture, and transportation.
Greeting the season of books, let’s dive into some of the “book spaces” in Uijeongbu. Below is a little introduction to Uijeongbu, which preserves the value of the long history of time and coexistence.

 

 

Lifebooks, a link connecting books, people, and the world

 

 

Bond as a community is weak, and individuals tend to prioritize privacy in modern society. Society’s individualism has intensified as social distancing extends in daily life due to the pandemic. There is a bookstore that strongly resists against such generational flow and strengthens the link connecting books, people, and the world. Lifebooks in Uijeongbu is a special place to visit, as it is run as a cooperative with investments from various parties.
When Lifebooks was first opened in 2016, it began as an ordinary bookstore. It was love and support from the neighbors that turned the bookstore into “Lifebooks Cooperative” last year. As a common hardship for town bookstores, Lifebooks was having difficulty making profits in the competition with big and online bookstores. Plus, even though it has been difficult for an individual to continue the management over a long period, closing the bookstore was never an easy decision to make. Instead, Lifebooks turned the crisis into an opportunity by choosing to operate as a cooperative.

 

 

Lifebooks Cooperative is solidifying the link that connects books, people, and the world.

 

 

Yet, the notion of “cooperative bookstores” does not exist in Korea. Although rare, it is such a fascinating thing to operate a bookstore with its members through the medium called books. Lifebooks Cooperative began as an alternative to giving at least the hope to overcome the hardship the bookstore was undergoing out of the residents’ pure love for the bookstore. Currently, 16 residents are the members of the cooperative, and those interested in operating the bookstore among them are working as its operating manager.

 

 

This makes Lifebooks a bit special from other ordinary bookstores. Unlike other bookstores that prioritize making commercial profits, Lifebooks does not sell books for learning, education, or practical books. It is also different from independent bookstores that are run in the taste of their owner, in that the operational direction of the bookstore is decided by all the managers from the cooperative. Lifebooks explains that such a unique way of operation is quite advantageous in running cultural events or small group meetings within the bookstore. It also added that even though reaching a consensus and making decisions could be slow, wisdom from each member builds up to finding a good solution for difficult issues. It is a great joy running the bookstore together.
The visit to Lifebooks gave us a strong impression of it as a “small but spacious” bookstore. No matter how small it could be, the space is filled with warm hearts that love books and the regional community. How about taking some time and feel the comfortable relaxation the warm coffee and fun books Lifebooks, a bookstore of people’s life stories, offer you?

 


Small Talk with Lifebooks

 

 

How do you want Lifebooks to be remembered by visitors?
Small meetings are ever more emphasized in the times of the coronavirus. As big meetings or events are limited these days, we hope Lifebooks is remembered as a bookstore that eases the residents’ cultural thirst and acts as a welcome rain in the difficult times.


What are the events or book meetings held in Lifebooks?
Every Tuesday and Thursday, we run a town humanities meeting in the morning. And in the evenings of every Tuesday and Wednesday, we host book-reading programs. We are currently reading Toji (meaning land) by writer Park Kyung-Ni in the Wednesday meeting. We are also preparing a book trip to the land museum.


What is the future plan and direction of Lifebooks as a “cooperative bookstore"?
The directional value Lifebooks pursues is becoming a link that connects books, people, and the world as a bookstore for life, just like our motto, distancing from being a place that merely sells books. We would be thankful if you could send love and support to the various attempts the little bookstore makes to be a vitalizing energy for town residents.


 

 

Sungmundang, a bookstore that has kept its place for 30 years

 

 

One other bookstore has been standing in its place over a long period of time with love and affection from neighbors. It is Sungmundang, located in downtown Uijeongbu, which has been a landmark of Uijeongbu for 30 years. The history of the name Sungmungdang (崇文堂) is longer than that of the bookstore. Meaning to learn and develop skills of language, the kings during the Joseon Dynasty would have in-depth discussions about political affairs and study with retainers. As this meaning is somehow similar to the bookstore’s reason for existence, the founder chose to name the bookstore Sungmundang.
Sungmundang is a meeting spot for people waiting to meet their loved ones and a life-discovering spot for people who touch, choose, and read books and find a turning point in their life. Whenever you walk past the bookstore that always waits for people to come inside, you will be able to feel nostalgia and experience the time stopping for a second. However, given the natural characteristic of a bookstore, you can have a special experience inside it where the new and old editions of books create a blend of the past and the present. The familiar smell of papers and tightly filled bookshelves will make your heart flutter full of anticipation for which books you will encounter.

 

 

You can have a special experience where the past and the present make a fine mixture
in Sungmundang with 30 years of history.

 

 

As a town bookstore, many of its visitors are families. As the first and second generations of a family share memories through Sungmundang, about 80% of its customers are regular. The bookstore offers kind explanations about the price and location of books to the customers in a friendly atmosphere. The new history Sungmundang - the representative bookstore in northern Gyeonggi-do Province – will write is highly anticipated. Sungmundang is open 365 days, including national holidays.

 


Small Talk with Sungmundang

 

 

What do you think is the power that helped Sungmundang keep its place for 30 years since its establishment?
Even though we are operating the bookstore to make profits, we chose to overcome the difficulty regional bookstores experience for the facilitation of book distributions in the northern part of the Han River over pursuing profits for our own. Sungmundang could stand firm by remembering and cherishing each and every customer that visits us across generations in the family.


You have been running the bookstore for a long time. Is there a customer that you remember in particular?
Many customers that have moved to another region due to marriage or immigration revisit us and take photos and buy books. The most remembered customers are those who offered us bottles of drinks as a token of appreciation for not closing the bookstore amidst difficult circumstances over time and becoming the representative bookstore in the region.


As the influence and presence of regional bookstores are shrinking, what is that thing that Sungmundang is in need of?
I think that all the small businesses and landmark stores that are more than 20 years old need active advertisement and financial support from the city governments.


 

 

The knowledge reservoir for residents, Uijeongbu City Library

 

Art Library of Uijeongbu

Uijeongbu Science Library

Art Library of Uijeongbu (left), Uijeongbu Science Library (right)

 

Photos of children by the observatory

Photos of children by the observatory

Photos of children by the observatory

 

There are about 20 libraries in different parts of Uijeongbu. Among those big in size are Uijeongbu City Library, Science Library, Art Library, and Children’s Library. In particular, the Art Library of Uijeongbu is the first public library to specialize in art in Korea. Visitors can use the existing public library service and enjoy art books and exhibition halls at the same time. The library has been highlighted as the filming site for the TV drama “It’s Okay to be Not Okay”.
Uijeongbu Science Library was newly established to power the specialization of science in the region. While offering books in various genres like an ordinary library, Uijeongbu Science Library puts the focus on science and contributes to the quality improvement of science as liberal arts by providing diverse science-related books and opening experience programs for the public. An observatory is installed next to the Uijeongbu Science Library. Here, you can experience the bizarre and extraordinary outer space through various experience programs.
Each library in Uijeongbu has been running various events and book-related programs every month, but due to the pandemic, entrance to libraries has been limited. If you would like to see more information about the events, please check the relevant notices on the integrated website of libraries in Uijeongbu(uilib.go.kr) before you visit.

 

 


Written by Choi Ha-Yeong

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Choi Ha-Yeong

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