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A Sad Day in Cambridge: Galloway & Porter, RIP June 18, 2010

Posted by Phil Groom in Bookshop Ramblings.
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Sue and I went to Cambridge today: Sue on church business, me to wander around the bookshops and drink coffee. I always enjoy poking around Cambridge’s bookshops: bit of a busman’s holiday, I suppose, but I’m an addict.

The Park & Ride features hi-tech advertising these days, with scrolling headlines from cambridge-news.co.uk: it told me that Libra Aries, one of Cambridge’s independent bookshops, is due to close on Sunday. Not an auspicious start to the day: it brought back memories of another trip to Cambridge, back in 2008, during the SPCK bookshops debacle.

I was right to read it as an omen: here’s the sight that broke my heart:

Dear Customers, Galloway & Porter is now CLOSED forever. Thank you.

Dear Customers, Galloway & Porter is now CLOSED forever. Thank you.

I loved that shop: it was more than a shop — it was an institution. There was rarely a visit to Cambridge when Sue and I didn’t leave with an armful of books from Galloway & Porter: they had a superb theological section and almost always had some gems in stock at prices we couldn’t resist.

Galloway & Porter, RIP. We miss you.

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Chilled Drinks now available at your favourite Christian bookshop! June 18, 2010

Posted by Phil Groom in Bookshop Ramblings.
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That’s the LST Bookshop, of course. Yes, courtesy of the inimitable Nick Aston, my awesome colleague and cheerful Assistant Bookshop Manager, we now have a fridge in the shop. Contents include fair trade orange juice, 50p per 200ml carton, and a selection of  45g Divine chocolate bars, 75p, for those who prefer their chocolate chilled.

So what are you waiting for? Get over there today and chill out with Nick!!

Chilled Drinks: Fairtrade Orange Juice, 50p

Chilled Drinks at your favourite Christian Bookshop - Fairtrade Orange Juice, 50p

Wesley Owen and the Mystery of the Missing Bookshop December 22, 2009

Posted by Phil Groom in Bookshop Ramblings, Knockabout.
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Yesterday evening I decided I’d better get on with updating UKCBD with details of the new shop ownerships that have emerged over the last few days. It proved a tad more complicated than I’d expected because, despite counting and re-counting, I couldn’t get the list of branches to tally.

Here’s where I’ve got to:

Branches in Administration
(or status uncertain)
Aberdeen
Bedford
Belfast
Brighton
Carlisle
Cheltenham
Chester
Croydon
Dundee
Edinburgh
Falkirk
Harrogate
Harrow
Inverness
Leeds
Liverpool
Macclesfield
Manchester
Nottingham
Southampton
South Woodford
Sutton
Walsall
Watford
Weston-Super-Mare
Woking
Worthing
Branches Taken Over
by CLC

Bolton
Cambridge
Coventry
Guildford
Kingston-Upon-Thames
Stockport
Branches Taken Over
by Koorong

Bath
Birmingham
Bristol
Bromley
Coleraine
Derby
Glasgow
York

Looks fairly straightforward, doesn’t it? Until you start counting … and discover not 40 but 41 branches, not 26 but 27 either in administration or status uncertain (I say ‘status uncertain’ advisedly because one, presumably, isn’t in administration).

I went back to the press releases, to November and yesterday: definitely 40 branches, 14 sold and 26 remaining — evidently, I’d miscounted: Biblica’s senior management surely know how many branches of Wesley Owen they’ve been trying to dispose of.

I checked my copy of the Booksellers Association Directory of Members: 41 branches there too. Must be out of date, even though the online version concurs (screenshot of search result). Where better to check, then, than Wesley Owen’s own shop finder? Alas, too late: they’d beat me to it and removed all the non-Koorang acquired branches. No worries, mate: Google cache to the rescue – as cached 11th Dec 2009 (pdf, 258kb):

Wesley Owen Store Finder, as at 11 Dec 2009

Wesley Owen Store Finder, as at 11 Dec 2009

With apologies to the good folks from Oz, but tie me kangaroo down, sport — would you look at that: 41 branches!

So if there’s anyone out there who can tell me which of the 27 remaining branches has somehow quietly disappeared during the last couple of weeks, please, I’d be most grateful so that I can update my records…

Now, what was that someone said about getting the facts right?? In all seriousness: is it any wonder that an organisation that can’t keep track of its own shops can’t manage its finances?

Of course, I could be wrong: maybe a branch really did close down and we all managed to miss it, in which case I apologise to the branch staff concerned for not updating UKCBD at the time… but in the meantime: don’t tell the administrators: someone might be about to acquire a shop free of charge!

Biblica and STL UK: A Strange Way to Attract Investors? December 6, 2009

Posted by Phil Groom in Bookshop Ramblings, Watching and Waiting.
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If you’ve been following my other blogs, UKCBD: The Christian Bookshops Blog and SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info, then it won’t have escaped your notice that the Christian book trade here in the UK has been going through a wee bit of a crisis over the last couple of years.

On the former SPCK bookshops front, things seem to be approaching a sort of resolution as Peter Gotham, the Interim Manager appointed by the Charity Commission, has seized control of most of the shops (Durham being the most obvious exception) and is now advertising for the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust’s creditors — amongst others, the people whose goods Mssrs J Mark and Philip W Brewer failed to pay for — to submit their claims against the organisation. If that’s you, you need to pull your finger out because, as things stand, you only have until the close of business on 16 December 2009 to get your claims in.

By a bizarre coincidence of timing, that’s also about the time that we can expect to hear what’s likely to happen to the struggling IBS-STL UK empire — STL Distribution, the Wesley Owen bookshops and Authentic Media/Paternoster Press. According to Keith Danby’s latest trade update, the negotiations with Biblica’s “preferred bidders” are expected to “take us into the week commencing 14th December” and we can expect a further announcement “when the sale process comes to a conclusion”.

It’s a welcome update that has been largely hailed as good news: to quote the Church Mouse,

The vital part of that is that the offers are ‘covering all aspects of the business’. This is very encouraging. Book selling in the UK is a tough market for anyone, evidenced not just by STL’s experience, but also by Borders going into administration. Some had thought that Wesley Owen’s chances of redemption were low, but it seems there is hope.

A more disturbing note, however, is sounded by the following statement from Danby which appeared in Toby Cohen’s Religious Intelligence report, Financial disaster hits British media player, published last week, Thursday, 3rd December 2009:

We are not being forced to make this decision by any bank. We came to the decision after struggling on for 12/13 months that now was the time to give the opportunity for new investors, new thinking and leadership to do what was best for the continuity of the ministry and all of the stakeholders.

To me there seems to be more than a whiff of something peculiar here. Even looking at this in the best possible light, pulling the plug on your UK operations and telling not only your staff but also your business and ministry partners that if buyers are not found within a few weeks then the entire enterprise will go into administration seems a rather strange way to attract new investors.

Introducing this level of uncertainty into people’s lives and livelihoods during the most critical time of year for businesses — and what is often one of the most stressful times of year for families — is hardly the way to help to ensure continuity of ministry, let alone to offer reassurance to “the stakeholders”.

If providing “the opportunity for new investors, new thinking and leadership” to take things forward was the primary concern, then surely the way to proceed would have been to seek to sell IBS-STL UK as a going concern, not as a business that was for sale or bust?

If there was no pressure from the charity’s bankers, then why was it deemed appropriate to subject either the staff or the rest of the UK Christian book trade to the trauma that they and we have gone through since November 16th?

I do not for one moment dispute the immense effort that has been put into finding a buyer or buyers, or into securing the futures of as many of STL UK’s 490 employees as possible; but I do not believe that Biblica’s decision to pull out of its UK operations was made with the best interests of the UK Christian book trade — or even its own UK division — in mind. No doubt new investment, new thinking and new leadership will emerge: but for that we will owe no debt of gratitude to Biblica, only rather to those who have shown the courage and entrepreneurial spirit to pick up the pieces afterwards.

Daring to Dream October 27, 2009

Posted by Phil Groom in Bookshop Ramblings, Watching and Waiting.
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Books for EveryoneI dreamed a dream.

I dreamed of people reading: an older man in his armchair, laughing uproariously at Bill Bryson’s latest; a young man, marching along, head in his book, enthralled, enchanted, oblivious to the world around him; a woman, relaxing with a new romance — or was it a crime story or a thriller she was absorbed in? Two children, excited as they discovered new worlds, new possibilities.

Who were these people? I don’t know: they could have been me, they could have been you; but all of them were loving and enjoying their books, real books printed on real paper.

Where were these people? They were everywhere. But as I looked, I could see them close to home, not far away at all: in my street, in my neighbourhood; and so another dream was born and began to take shape: Biggleswade Books.

Can that dream become reality? I hope so; and I hope that you, gentle reader, will share my dream…

Biggleswade Books: Dreaming of a new, independent bookshop for Biggleswade and the surrounding area.

Loony Legal Threats Over the SPCK/SSG Bookshops: One Year On July 21, 2009

Posted by Phil Groom in Bookshop Ramblings.
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Where were you on July 21st 2008?

Unless it’s your birthday, it’s probably not a date that means much to you, but for me it’s a date I won’t forget in a hurry: I was on holiday, cruising the Thames in somewhat better weather than we’re having this year.

A message came in on my mobile to tell me that J Mark Brewer, an American lawyer and the then-owner of the SPCK/SSG Bookshops, was threatening me with legal action unless I took down various webpages where I and several other people had been reporting on his abuse of his staff and his mismanagement of the shops.

Interim Managers Notice - No entry to this building is permitted...

Interim Manager's Notice - "No entry to this building is permitted..."

It’s been an interesting year since but we’ve now reached the point where the tables have been well and truly turned on Mr Brewer: the Charity Commission have stepped in and seized control of the shops whilst they complete formal investigations into his misdemeanors.

So today I take the opportunity to thank everyone who has shown solidarity over the past year as I and my fellow bloggers have fought against Mr Brewer. It’s your encouragement, prayers and support that have made it possible: thank you.

Even now, however, the fight continues: staff and suppliers remain unpaid and the Charity Commission face an uphill struggle as they attempt to set things right.

Please continue to pray; and if you’d like to find out more, read on:

A Rule for Reading June 26, 2009

Posted by Phil Groom in Bookshop Ramblings.
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I dedicate this post to my friend bourach 🙂Too Many Books

Sometimes in life we need rules. Maybe all the time: as bourach reminded me recently, the rules are what make things safe; without them we face chaos.

Here’s my proposed rule for reading when you’re faced with too many books and you don’t know where to start: do you start with the old ones or the new ones?

My rule is: Read the new ones first.

Why? Because the old ones will always get older; the new ones will never get newer. If you read the new ones whilst they’re still new, then you can turn to the old ones later. Do it the other way round, though, and you’ll only ever have old books to read.

Books: probably the only thing in life I’m qualified to make a rule about!

Important Notice for People Who Don’t Read Notices April 22, 2009

Posted by Phil Groom in Bookshop Ramblings.
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Welcome! This is a notice is for people who don’t read notices. Which means you, gentle reader, are in the wrong place.

But since you’re here, perhaps you can help me.

For my day job — when I’ve got nothing better to do, you understand — I run a college bookshop. We have a couple of notices on the door about our opening times.

One is slightly complicated: it spells out our normal opening times, which have remained exactly the same for the last eight years:

Normal Opening Times
10.30am – 4.30pm
Termtime: Monday to Friday
Vacations: Tuesday to Saturday

But every time a college vacation comes around, customers wander in and ask if the shop will be open during the vacation.

The other is very simple: it says OPEN on one side and CLOSED on the other. Most of the time we remember to flip it around, but we like to make it easy for people: when the shop’s open, we have the lights on and the door open; when it’s closed, we have the door closed and most of the lights off.

But when the door is open and the lights are on, people wander in and say, “Are you open?” … and when the door is closed and the lights are off, people try the door and seem confused when it doesn’t open…

There was a time when I wondered why people who can’t read would want to visit a bookshop anyway; but we sell chocolate as well now, so non-readers have a good reason for visiting too.

But all in all, I’m left wondering: would it be better to take down the notices, since so many people don’t read them? Or is it best to leave them there so that when people don’t read them I can point to them? Is that really what notices are for — like speed limit signs on the roads, not there for people to read but to be pointed at afterwards when they’ve ignored them?

If you know, please do tell.

Thank you for reading.

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