By Joy Tan (23A01D)
Photographs courtesy of Tan Gin Juat (23S06A)
Amidst a nationwide withdrawal of Popular bookshops from all schools, the end of an era for Raffles’ very own Popular bookshop has arrived.
Over the course of two weeks in June, the interior of the store will undergo minor renovations, after which Casco Educational Supply will be moving in as the school’s new bookshop by the end of the month.
Most of us will miss the old bookshop fondly: it has served us well as a prime destination to replace stationery, or get corrugated boards and craft supplies to set up for CCA events at the last minute.
As we bid farewell to Popular@RI this term, our Popular (soon-to-be Casco) aunty is here to give us a behind-the-scenes peek into what it is like running the bookstore.
Despite having only been in RI for 2 years, Ms Winnie, one of the key staff members operating the store, has seen it all—particularly when it comes to the dubious affair of Y14 house shirt transactions.
Just as it is no secret to the student population that students often enlist the help of their male peers to purchase the Y14 house shirts, the aunties are also in the know, surprisingly (or not!). “They think we don’t know, but we do! I see them 一手交钱一手交货 (pay their friends for the house shirts) right outside the bookshop, how can I not know?”
In response to the familiar excuse involving claims to buy shirts for one’s younger brother, here is what she had to say: “You all have many younger brothers hor!”
Understandably, the news of the closure had taken quite a hit on Ms Winnie. In her own words, “我当然很伤心! (Of course I’m very sad!)” While she has spent the last 12 years working under Popular, she will now have to switch companies and join Casco in order to continue running the bookshop.
When asked what she would miss the most about Popular, she replied wistfully that she “couldn’t bear to leave” her colleagues from Popular, knowing that they would most likely drift apart without the connections from work keeping them in close contact. The other Popular aunty who used to be in RI recently returned to her hometown in the Philippines.
Although she misses her colleagues already, Ms Winnie is grateful to have had their company to begin with. “Normally it’s a one-man show (running the shop) in other schools, but because this store is serving both the secondary and JC side, it’s bigger, and that’s why we have a few of us.”
One of Ms Winnie’s favourite parts of working at a school bookshop is interacting with the students, who frequently say things she finds to be very “cute”. “他们好像长不大的 (It’s like they never grow up),” she said.
Even something as guileless as a boy, having journeyed all the way from the Y14 campus, saying, “My friend sent me here to check which sock sizes are still available”, elicits an endearing laugh from her.
She also enjoys interacting with the teachers here: she is thankful that they are cooperative and understanding, especially when it comes to “(liaising) to (purchase) the TYS (Ten Year Series) in bulk”.
In fact, it has become a common consensus among the aunties that working too long in a school bookshop makes it a lot harder to go back to working at other Popular outlets outside. They not only have to work weekends and longer daily hours there, but also have to deal with a more varied (and potentially more problematic) customer base.
Here in RI, Ms Winnie gets to, in her own words, “nag (the) students” and take care of them, occasionally chatting with those who visit the bookshop during their breaks just to talk to the aunties.
“Some (students) here treat us as their friends, (they) come here and talk when they’re stressed, and the other aunty will give them advice sometimes.”
As the staff prepare for Casco to take over the bookshop, Ms Winnie has her concerns about adjusting to the change. After all, Casco is a smaller company, which likely means less complex systems and less paperwork, but at the same time possibly less control over stock ordering and communications with the suppliers.
Currently, Ms Winnie is the one who takes stock of the goods coming in and out of Popular, keeping track of the inventory and placing orders for new items when they run low. Now, she has to adapt to the new system in order to continue operating the bookshop efficiently.
As we bid goodbye to Popular@RI, we can take heart that we will continue to see the familiar faces of two of our bookshop aunties, who will be there to offer a helping hand and a listening ear to those who need it.