The Fine Print

Updated: 2011-05-29 08:03

By Rebecca Lo (China Daily)

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 The Fine Print

Lorence Johnston, proprietor of Lok Man Rare Books, shares his love for the tried and tested printed word with guests who seek literary treasures in his bookstore. Rebecca Lo / China Daily

The Fine Print

Rare books in a world that's increasingly digital? In Hong Kong, Rebecca Lo uncovers an unusual entrepreneur guarding the last bastions of the printed word, in a high-end book boutique, with love and pride.

Trying to find the right gift for a man can be a total nightmare. Most guys believe they are easy to please when the very fact that they don't really need anything makes them virtually impossible to shop for.

Told once by a female client that it is really difficult to buy something special for a special man, Lorence Johnston exclaimed, "I had no idea!"

The proprietor of Lok Man Rare Books helps people source a particular volume as a special present for birthdays, anniversaries or weddings, and often gives his personal opinion from a male perspective.

He will engage in a dialogue, at first casting a wide net and then whittling it down to specifics. Since people have very strong opinions when it comes to poetry and authors, he will ask instead about the recipient's hobbies, sports, pastimes and books that have been influential in their past. The conversation may veer completely off-track, which can be fun and enlightening.

"Once, a lady came in and was looking for something for her father, a geologist," Johnston recalls. "She thought - maybe something on the topic of stone or the Earth. In the end, she bought a book on Biggles, a boys' book about a pilot. Her father used to read this book at the dinner table when she was growing up. The book couldn't have been more personalized, since it was focused on the two of them and their relationship."

Johnston established Lok Man five years ago after working for banks and accounting firms, and operating an assortment of other businesses.

The name, Lok Man, comes from the Chinese name his last company gave him, and is based on the phonetic translation of his first name. It also happens to be appropriate for a book shop.

His fondness for literature and love for bespoke luxury provided the concept for Lok Man.

"I don't think there is a real luxury boutique in Hong Kong," he confesses, "where you would have a personalized experience like at Dunhill in London or some small shops in Paris. The kind where you have to be recommended to shop there and it remains the same through the generations. Like couture, where you need an appointment to get in and are treated like royalty."

As Johnston had no prior retail experience, he runs the shop exactly how he wants.

Often, he will pop open a bottle of wine in the twilight hours for long-time clients as they discuss their requirements. Sourcing books take perseverance, and finding the right copy at the right time may take years. With such investment into finding printed treasures, it can be difficult to let them go once he acquires them.

"I once had a set of Dickens' Christmas stories," he sighs regretfully. "They were first editions and beautifully bound in leather, in an old leather box. They were in exquisite condition. I ended up selling them to a Hong Kong buyer."


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