For the past 17 years, Nigel R Khan has been using his bookstore to transform the southern landscape through the power of knowledge. Through books, Khan has educated and enriched the lives of thousands of people who have walked through his doors—in the South as well as other parts of T&T.
"From a point of love, I think your stores represent a part of your personality and it is really a temple for books. I think the printed word is sacred and it is immutable. I do not believe that it will ever fade in the ether, despite what people have said," Khan said.
Born into a family trading in books, Khan, a Southerner, fell in love with reading from a tender age. Prior to branching off on his own, he worked at his uncle's bookstore for 15 years where his passion for books deepened. Speaking with Guardian Media at his Marabella bookstore and warehouse, an affable Khan spoke passionately about the importance of reading and his everlasting love for books.
While he believes that the print text could never be obliterated by e-readers, he said the technology has significantly impacted the local and international book business.
"I think we’ve lost 20 per cent (in the book business) but it has brought back a lot of people to reading, to the power of the printed word, I think that’s immutable.
"The 20 per cent I am talking about is magazines, periodicals, quick reading articles, computer manuals, that’s gone... magazines are all but gone. It's hard to find a magazine because you can get on that online, but there are certain core books which remain, for instance, Michelle Obama's autobiography (in print) was top selling."
Noting that 20 per cent is a significant decline for a small island, he said bookstores have to take certain measures to cushion that impact.
"That's why we are seeing shrinkage because you can’t carry everything, seeing books not as a commodity, but as carrying the right books with the right titles. People want to read what's the latest, what's the trend, what's new, that's what people want to read. Most times it is always better when you open a book, you could read a hundred lives just by reading a book."
Khan, who has four bookstores in the San Fernando area, believes a bookstore provides a service and experience like no other business.
"Once you go into a bookstore in your community, you feel uplifted, you feel transformed. It is not about going after the money. It is not about selling you a book and pushing you out the door.
"The idea behind it is that you are transforming lives and children’s lives. Just imagine someone may be walking in there with a kid, that child may become the prime minister or somebody great, all that potential for greatness walking through your door."
Khan said his business and the way he treats his workers was centred around transforming and uplifting lives.
"Every decision I make here in my warehouse or with my people affects people down the line. We have over 100
people working for us and by extension their families, if I make a bad decision it resonates throughout."
This is why he ensures that there is a high level of professionalism at his outlets.
"Children who are more progressive are the ones who are professional, who know the value of the printed word and those are the people who come into the stores on a regular basis and actually buy books to keep their kids reading because they know that is the sure way to succeed, because if you read you have no problem with SEA."
However, he said there were too many people addicted to their phones, tablets and other devices.
"We have too many people who are stuck on these devices and are not on books. Long ago they said religion was the opium of the masses. Well, I think now the iPhone is the opium of the masses because we have an invert in values. So the inverted values are another big deal because we have become too dependent on these devices.
"When we write we remember. It is part of the natural learning process."
He has no doubt that the printed words will never be phased out.
'I love the warmth of the people in the southern city'
Khan said what he loves the most about the southern city is the warmth of the people. What disturbs him the most, however, is poor customer service.
Khan noted that while 90 per cent of the jobs available are in retail, there is no retail academy on the island.
"None of these people ever get any retail training directly. Imagine if the local university here or one of our local colleges were to offer courses in retail where people who have just finished schools want to go into either restaurant or whatever aspect of business, you can be trained on that basis—How to operate a linx machine, what's a visa machine, what's a point-of-sale software, what is a scanner. Just the basics and we would uplift the level of service in this country," he said.