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In September last year, it was reported that indie bookstore BooksActually would be closing its Yong Siak Street store and moving its operations online.

The news saddened bibliophiles across the country as well as home-grown writers, as some of them had their works sold at the store.

The popular bookstore was opened in 2005 by Kenny Leck and Karen Wai, who were dating at the time.

A year after the closure of their brick-and-mortar store, some troubling allegations have surfaced about one of the store’s co-founders.

BooksActually’s Owner Accused of ‘Making Romantic Advances’

According to an exposé published by Rice Media yesterday (25 Sep), several women who worked at BooksActually have complained of Leck making romantic advances towards them.

One of them is Renée Ting, who was 19 years old when she was hired to work at the store.

At the time, Leck had split up with Karen, but the two were still business partners. While he was allegedly in a relationship with another employee, Leck had allegedly made romantic advances towards Renee.

“At that time, I didn’t think there was anything wrong,” she told Rice. 

“I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I had strong feelings. It felt a bit like a mentorship, but then somewhere along the way, I became okay with romantic advances.”

Leck left the other girl he was dating for Renee, and the pair entered into a relationship. Just six months later, they discussed about marriage.

Around the beginning of their relationship, Renée and her two older sisters had been kicked out of their home. Devoting herself to BooksActually, the 19-year-old worked and slept in the Yong Siak Street store, and would barely get any days off for the next six years.

When BooksActually faced financial difficulties, Renee also stopped getting paid.

Made Romantic Advances Towards Other Female Employees

It seems that Renee wasn’t the only one who was the subject of such overtures.

According to Rice, Kenny rarely hired male employees; workers were, for the most part,  women in the early twenties.

At that point in their lives, the opportunity to work at an indie bookstore, especially one as popular as BooksActually, was too appealing to turn down.

But the seemingly familial environment in the store did not tell the whole story, as another former worker can attest to.

After Renee and Leck divorced, the BooksActually co-founder reportedly turned his attention to other young women working at the store.

One of them was Mel, who told Rice that Leck had confessed he was in love with her while he was married to Renée.

Mel rejected his advances, but Leck persisted. At one point, Mel felt compelled to let Leck hug her and hold her hand, as she didn’t want to hurt him.

She also told him she liked him, just to appease him, even though that was not the case.

Other women who previously worked at the store have also come forward with tales of encounters that they felt were inappropriate.

When Rice contacted Leck over the allegations, he claimed that all the allegations detailed were “untrue”.

Leck Relinquishing Sole Ownership of BooksActually 

Barely a day after the exposé was published, BooksActually issued a statement on its Instagram page.

“We understand that in the early years of BooksActually our past employees did not work in a safe and professional workplace environment,” it said.

It said that since 2019, it has been implementing welfare practices to protect itself, including ensuring workers are paid on time, providing one-hour lunch breaks, and sticking to “strictly regular” working hours.

It assured staff and customers that it will continue to improve its staff welfare and HR practices, as well as strengthen anti-harassment policies to ensure that present and future employees are “valued and protected.’

“We assure you that we will build a better, stronger and more accountable BooksActually.”

The most noteworthy announcement in the statement is that Leck will be relinquishing sole ownership of BooksActually, as well as Math Paper Press.

Lest you’re not aware, “relinquish” means to “give over”.

“While Kenny will be putting out his own statement in due time, we would like to seek your kindness in respecting our wellbeing and need for privacy during this difficult period,” it added.

While there are a lot of uncertainties over what will happen to BooksActually now, one thing is for sure; this saga is not over.

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Featured Image: Facebook (BooksActually & Kaplan Singapore)

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