Years ago I knew it was going to happen at some point, but it didn't. By the time I believe it will be lucky enough to escape the cruelty, it is proven to be inevitable.
I was talking about the failure of Commercial Press, the leading chain bookstore in Hong Kong, to renew its lease of its cosy and convenient flagship store at Star House near Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry.
Not surprisingly, most local media didn't pick up the news, as if it were something as trivial and insignificant as a pin drops into the sea. But for booklovers like me, it is yet another piece of sad news about which we should complain and grumble.
While I respect the landlord's full freedom to make its own decision based on business judgment, I can't help wondering why leasing to bookshops is such an unfavourable option, if unwelcome at all, to landlords.
Just like the silent and gradual removal of the reputable English-language Swindon Books at Ocean Centre that was not even mentioned or noticed by the media.
Of course I have no idea how bad tenants can bookstores possibly be, but knowing the former general manager of Commercial Press, Dr Chan Man-hung, I don't think Commercial Press can be among those notoriously amateur bookstores that are run by bookworms who know nothing about business. Dr Chan is a cultured and respectable publishing guru of more than 30 years with an extraordinary combination of business sense and academic commitment. He knows both sides of the game inside out and is capable of striking an amazing balance between the two. In essence, he is one of the few scholars-turned-businessmen whom I respect most.
From a cultural perspective, I can't tell you how sad it is to witness the retreat of a flagship bookstore in the heart of Hong Kong. Perhaps for most corporate landlords who don't have a clue about what difference culture really makes, having a genuine, groovy bookstore in a prime location is nothing more than a ridiculous business decision that needs to be rectified at all costs. By the same token, the corporate landlords will never know how boring and tasteless it is to have shopping malls of exactly the same shops around almost every corner of Hong Kong. Neither will they realise how stupid it is to scrap the lease renewal contract with a popular and well-respected bookstore. Having another high-end restaurant or luxury brand boutique as the tenant may bring greater economic gain, though at the expense of frequent and habitual visitors, the landlord's corporate reputation and perception in the eyes of the sophisticated.
Unfortunately, however, this is something intangible and not reflected in financial books to which nine in 10 companies in Hong Kong hardly pay any attention. They just can't be bothered less.