During COVID-19 last year, two book lovers started a mobile library for housing societies in Pune. The journey that began with one society at first saw the creation of hundred other stalls within months.
In less than a year, the 'Queen of the Deccan' saw a new buzz around the place as people had begun to fall in love with books all over again.
In August 2020, a couple called - Ashay Walambe and Rutica Walambe embarked on a journey known as, ‘Pustakwale.’ While talking to FPJ, Ashay added, “ When the unlocking phase had just begun, we went to our friends' place. We had a book for his 5-year-old son, he mentioned that there were no book stores nearby and if they wished to buy any books they would have to travel far, which wasn't possible during the pandemic.”
They discovered that there are relatively few book stores around the place and many elderly citizens, children are not too keen on online purchases. As a result, the idea to set up book stalls in housing societies came about so that families could enjoy book reading and one didn’t have to purchase a book. Therefore the couple began with their friend's society in Baner, Pune, and so began the 'Pustakwale' adventure.
When asked about the kind of books, Ashay was quick to reply, “We keep books across all age groups in Marathi, English and Hindi. We cover all the genres to create excitement in readers. We keep books from authors including, Sudha Murthy, Ruskin Bond, Roald Dahl, Agatha Christie, Amish, Pu La Deshpande, Ayn Rand to name a few.” He added that 7-15-year-olds are the biggest band of readers and both kids and adults prefer fiction.
When asked about permissions from housing societies for implementing the venture, he said that all the societies they approached knew the importance of the books hence the concept was very well accepted. “Societies were sceptical about the response from its members. However we believe that books have the power to attract readers,” the library man added.
“The society fees required to set up a stall proved to be a hurdle, but since most of them appreciated our concept we were provided discounts which we ensured are passed on to the customers. “We focused on housing societies as they were allowing vendors with necessary permission during the lockdown. Housing societies are and have been small cultural centres in the city."
They reward their offline sales with an online portal and use social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, and Whatsapp) for online orders.
During the sales process, they provide last mile communication with the consumer. Pustakwale has set up 200 stalls throughout 150 plus societies in Pune in the last 15 months, selling more than 10,000 books to over 3,000 families with a turnover of close to Rs 3 million.