top of page


Blog Picture.jpg

Bras Basah Complex’s Knowledge Book Centre

A mainstay of Bras Basah Complex for the past four decades is closing by mid-July.

Knowledge Book Centre, which has been operating at Bras Basah Complex since it was set up in 1981, is set to close down, hurt by rental expenses and declining business.

It will be moving out after the landlord finds a tenant to take over the 1,200 sq ft space - about the size of a five-room HDB flat - on the third floor.

“It has been a struggle to pay rent. One or two months of struggling to pay rent is okay, but how long can I push through? At my age, I also don’t want to be stressed,” said Mr Mohamed Ismail, 69, who runs the outlet and is a part-owner.

Knowledge Book Centre sells mainly second-hand books and is known for its educational materials from primary to tertiary levels.

The business was started by his uncle, Mr Mohamed Syed, now 85, in 1975 with two partners. The first location was in Bras Basah Road and under a different name.

Mr Ismail worked in his uncle’s business from 1981 to 1984 before he took on a job in Saudi Arabia.

At his uncle’s behest, he returned and started working at Knowledge Book Centre in December 1997. His uncle made him a partner in 2000 after one of the original partners died and the other wanted out.

Mr Syed, who retired in 2010, remains a partner and shows up at the store from time to time.

Although it initially sold new books, Knowledge Book Centre started buying and selling second-hand titles in 2000. Today, Mr Ismail estimates that 80 per cent of his business comes from used books.

In its heyday in the late 1990s, he said the store had 10 employees and was making around $40,000 a month.

These days, monthly sales have dropped to around $15,000 over the past seven to eight months, barely enough to cover the monthly rental of $7,500 after other expenses like utility bills.

The rent was previously $8,500 until the landlord decreased it last year because of the pandemic.

“If people come and business is okay, I won’t close the shop, but no one is coming,” Mr Ismail said, adding that footfall had been particularly low in recent months, although he is unsure of the reason…

The bookstore’s first appearance in the newspapers, on 19 November 1982. Credit: SPH Media Trust.

I visited the bookstore for the last time to record it for posterity.

It was everything I imagined a bookstore I would own - an organised chaos, with books spilling out of shelves and onto the floor.

There were also the dated fonts, metal grilles, worn-out linoleum flooring, fake ceiling boards, and old wall clock one would never find in newer, flashier bookstores.

Some shelf labels were for show only; the books did not match these labels, so I had to look at every shelf if I wanted to unearth a second-hand gem - which I did, several times.

The last day of the bookstore is 15 July.


Join my blog's Telegram channel at for mobile updates.

bottom of page