Albert Wan, American co-founder of Bleak House Books, has announced that the Hong Kong independent bookstore would close on October 15. Wan and his wife, Jenny Smith, opened the bookstore in 2017. Wan explained the decision in a Facebook post on August 28. Additional information can be found in "The Last Memo," a post on the bookstore's blog at blog.bleakhousebooks.com.hk.

'The backdrop is politics'

"The decision to close the bookshop follows another equally painful and sad decision, which is that my family and I will be leaving Hong Kong in the near future," wrote Wan in "The Last Memo." He went on to say, "The backdrop to these developments is, of course, politics" while insisting that neither he nor his wife were "overtly political."

The Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) quoted Wan as saying the national security law imposed by mainland China had led to "more pressure to self-censor now than before" and this pressure was "partly the reason for closing and leaving Hong Kong." The HKFP noted that high rents and competition from online booksellers had been said to be the reason for a number of local bookstores closing recently.

In his Facebook post, Wan said Bleak House Books had been "happy, thriving and successful."

One of Hong Kong's 'hidden gems'

RTHK, the former British colony's public broadcaster, noted that the bookstore was located in an industrial building in the city's San Po Kong area. A YouTube channel, Peanut Butter Bookie called Bleak House Books one of the city's "hidden gems." It noted that the store had a hard-to-find location on the 27th floor of a tall building at Well Tech Centre. A video on the channel showed books about local pro-democracy demonstrations on display at the bookstore.

Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, was among those going to Twitter to comment on the closure of the bookstore.

"Another ominous sign as Beijing crushes Hong Kong's freedoms: One of Hong Kong’s last independent English-language bookstores, Bleak House Books, will close to the public on October 15," he said.

An American couple in Hong Kong

On the bookstore blog, Wan recalled how his family had relocated to Hong Kong.

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He said he had been working as a lawyer and his wife had been on the faculty of the Georgia Institute of Technology when in 2016 she accepted a job offer from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. "So it was off to Hong Kong for the family," he said. Wan recalled deciding to do something "challenging, creative, and community-oriented" in the former British colony.

He noted that the store had hosted a number of cultural events since its opening in 2017.

In his Facebook post, Wan recalled being asked what he would miss about the city. "The truth is I don’t have the mental energy to ‘miss’ anything... because my focus is what I can do for the city here and now," he wrote.

One last poetry reading

In his Facebook post, Wan said the bookstore would host one last poetry reading "with our good friends at Cha literary journal." Cha has a website www.asiancha.com and a blog chajournal.blog. Wan added that Bleak House Books would have "no farewell party, and no clearance sale." Most of the unsold books would be donated to independent bookstores and other institutions, he said.