Posts Tagged ‘bookshop’

Emily Thornberry supports independent bookshops

May 16th, 2018

So eventually the letter I wrote to Emily Thornberry who is my MP for Islington South and Finsbury received a reply.
The Right Honourable Mel Stride is the Oxford University educated Conservative MP for Central Devon and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. His reply to Emily details some of the measures that were taken to remove the sting from the increased business rates which affect many smaller retailers. Thresholds were indeed increased and certain shops including some independent bookshops were able to escape some of the higher business rate increases. Credit where it’s due.

One particularly interesting thing that Mr Stride said was that he would be increasing the frequency of property revaluations from once every five years to once every three years. This is a reform he says to ensure that bills are fairer as they more closely reflect properties’ current rental values and relative changes in rents. It may be true that business rates are easy to collect, difficult to avoid and have a clear link with local authority spending. But if property values go up every 3 years and trigger similar increases in rents and in business rates, I suggest that the high street and local communities are going to find themselves losing out big time. In particular I think that independent High Street bookshops are going to carry on closing down as a result.
When fixed overheads increase not only because of higher rent, but doubly so because of higher rates, then it makes many independent High Street bookshops increasingly unprofitable.
Can a bookshop charge more for its £8.99 priced book? Can it add £1 more to the price of a new book for increased rent and another pound more for increased business rates? Since books are published with a recommended retail price printed clearly on them, and yet, since the net book agreement collapsed, any retailer can charge any amount they want below that price, it is like having a downwards only clause attached to the price of the products we booksellers are selling. Whereas the bookshop property leases we end up signing mainly have an upwards only clause for the rents and consequently for the business rates.
How is this fair to those independent book shops which you say the government recognises makes such a valuable contribution to the community?
Do you know what you should be doing Mr Stride?
-making 100% sure all independent book shops are indeed recognised for their special contribution and have a special business rates provision that is the equivalent to the business rates that charity shops pay. At present charities occupying commercial property are eligible for 80% mandatory relief, which local authorities can choose to top up by an additional 20%.
Emily said in her letter to me that the financial secretary to the Treasury hasn’t provided specific measures for independent bookshops.
Emily said to me that she appreciates this is not the response I was hoping for. Emily is right.
But I am going to write back to Emily to tell her what I think the response from The Right Honourable Mel Stride could and should have been. Why isn’t this the fair response that the valuable contribution independent bookshops make to the High Street and local Communities deserves: 80 to 100% business rates relief for independent bookshops in the UK?


TfL- gaining lucrative piece of real estate at the expense of the existing shops under Old Street roundabout.

November 30th, 2014

I am the sole owner of the bookshop in Old Street roundabout. I have been there since 2002. I have run my bookshops without interruption since founding them in 1984, celebrating my 30th year as a prize winning independent bookshop proprietor this year.
1/ My comments on TfL’s road layout are essentially of disbelief: TfL should have had the traffic modelling available in a visually accessible format at the start of the consultation period. I am informed that it is not currently in a suitable format for release, and will not be available until Christmas time. I think this significantly undermines and invalidates TfL’s consultation through significant lack of appropriate information. It is impossible to judge how well the traffic will flow without this visual modelling. The modelling information is key to this consultation and it is essential that all information relevant to the traffic flow is available from day one of the consultation period. Lacking the modelling flow video is effectively disinformation.
2/ As a life-long cyclist and someone who daily cycled to Old Street for 12 years, I want to point out that the proposed cycle lanes are too narrow for the number of cyclists potentially using them. The speedier cyclists will feel impatient having to slow down to the pace of the slowest cyclists and waiting at even more red lights. This may lead to poor cycle lane and traffic lights discipline, that will, in turn, impact on the other vehicles using TfL’s proposed layout. I believe TfL’s proposals will potentially lead to a number of serious collisions and possibly fatal cycling accidents.
3/ There is a need for more bicycle parking spaces than have been sketched in. Cycle security is an important part of maintaining the number of cycle users. This under estimation of the need for cycle racks betrays an essential lack of proper commitment to the cycle user.
4/ I consider the northern pedestrian crossing is a compromise between serving people walking north along City Road and those walking east along Old Street. Where TfL depict the crossing in TfL’s pamphlet is not going to feel acceptable to those people walking to the bus stop travelling east along Old Street because of the extra time and distance it will take them to get there. I suggest that people will end up running over the road across the traffic in order to speed up their crossing. I think that the crossing should be moved further east to favour those walking to Hoxton and Shoreditch. Hoxton and Shoreditch are well known for their night clubs where alcohol is consumed to excess-I do not think the safety of inebriated revellers returning to the tube station has been accurately factored in when designing TfL’s proposed pedestrian crossing and in your decision to remove the completely safe subway access. TfL’s proposals will lead to increased pedestrian accidents.
5/ By removing subway access TfL will be directly affecting the flow of customers from my bookshop and thereby reducing the value of my business, my lease and my livelihood. My shop draws in customers from London and the UK, who come specifically to my business. But I also depend on a constant flow of passing customers. So I object to the closing off or the reduction of any of the existing subway access. It is not acceptable to effectively deny customers access to my business. I am deeply unhappy with the removal of the pedestrian ramps because that will also reduce pedestrian access.
6/ My business depends on the natural light shaft or light well that has existed since the roundabout was built and that is of great advantage not only to me and my business but to all users of the subways. I do not agree with any plans that would affect that crucial access to light, denying existing users what they have come to believe is there for the common benefit.
7/ The loading bay access road that currently exists would be lost in TfL’s proposals. The suggestion is to build a new loading bay. However, the siting of this new bay would be within the congestion zone- currently our loading facilities are outside the congestion zone. The financial implications are potentially very large: £12 per day extra for every delivery, on every weekday of every year from the implementation of your plans. Currently I would expect to receive in the region of 5-10 deliveries from different people or companies every weekday. The loading bay needs to be excluded from the congestion zone or relocated on a part of the proposed scheme that is outside.
8/ Access for shop deliveries and for putting out rubbish will be unacceptably inconvenienced in your proposals. Currently I have use of a dedicated service lift and lift area that is immediately adjacent to the dedicated and remote loading bay at street level. TfL’s proposal is wholly inadequate as a like-for-like replacement. Firstly the new lift would be shared with the general public. This is inappropriate and may lead to accidents, when, for example, I am receiving a pallet of boxes of books and the pallet accidentally knocks into a passenger because pallets are obviously cumbersome and hard to steer accurately in crowded situations. Traders using the lift with large quantities of bulky,smelly and dirty rubbish, do not travel comfortably in lifts side by side with smart commuters, disabled people and the elderly. The existing lift is already used at capacity during busy times, without any public usage- the general public will make demand for a single lift unacceptable.
Secondly TfL’s proposed lift is much further away from their proposed loading bay and may or may not involve taking goods up or down from one level to another; it will also not be isolated from the public, as it currently is for good reason.
The existing shops have no back areas for storing waste or rear entrances for processing deliveries; your proposals would make dealing with accepting deliveries and taking out rubbish worse than they already are and they would become intolerable unless provision is made for a second dedicated lift, for example, closer to the loading bay.
9/ The maintenance and security of Old Street station has historically been complex because of the cross authority confusion and has led to poor standards in the past and present. I see no written commitment in TfL’s proposals to them stepping up to accept responsibility for providing unbroken security and maintenance for the proposed areas above and below ground. Due to the location of Old Street roundabout, the need for cleaning and for security against anti-social behaviour is far greater than in many other locations in London. I would not be willing for this commitment to go unacknowledged in TfL’s proposals.
10/ Since temporary retail units are proposed on the surface of the roundabout, I would like to see assurances that no other bookshop would be allowed to rent one of the new spaces taking unfair advantage of the twelve years of goodwill that I have built up in my bookshop below ground.
11/ I am unaware of what provisions are proposed for mitigating the disruption to my business during construction. Perhaps some of the more disruptive, noisy or dusty work can be undertaken late in the evenings, at nights or during the weekends. I need to see more detail in the proposed building processes.
12/ There is no mention of my shop or any other neighbouring shops in TfL’s proposals. I believe that TfL have a duty of care as landlord to these shops to protect their livelihoods as much as they possibly can. I want TfL to enshrine that duty of care into their proposals since our customers, staff and ourselves, the owners, come to this site every day and will be profoundly effected by the construction and by the detailed design of what TfL are proposing. I am unhappy and find it unreasonable that so many key components of TfL’s proposal are subject to change or uncertainty. Supporting, encouraging and protecting existing businesses and their employees is enshrined in all the strategic literature on all building developments in this part of London. TfL need to incorporate support for existing businesses into their written proposals. If TfL continue to ignore existing businesses in their written proposals they are acting outside the spirit if not the specific legal undertakings of strategies that have been legally agreed.

I believe TfL’s proposals have the praiseworthy merit of looking at cyclist safety, but are all to easy to deconstruct. The only clear beneficiaries, when the detail is examined (as much as possible without the vital traffic flow modelling video), are TfL- gaining access to a lucrative piece of real estate that is currently an important part of the service infrastructure of the existing shops under the roundabout.

Inauguration Stations

February 5th, 2014

Hello Hello Hello! Hello. We are the Bookseller of Silicon Roundabout and we would like to welcome you to our new-look blog.

We’ve been selling books in Old Street Roundabout for thirteen years and we figured, with the arrival of this most auspicious of anniversaries, that it was time to create a place to talk about it. So here we have it: a soapbox for a material girl in a digital world.

At the beginning of last week the Standard broke the news that the area around Old Street Roundabout (or ‘Tech City’, as it is snazzily styled) has become the place for tech start-ups to locate themselves. One interviewee said: “There’s a great energy in London’s start-up scene. It’s still proving itself.”

I mean, isn’t this just a really astonishing piece of news? Tech companies in Silicon Roundabout? It’s dynamite!

This story could have been written on any year for the last decade so, apparently, nothing has changed. Old Street is still the up and coming place for the up and coming. But then, they do keep coming – and this high turnover of businesses and the people that work in them has put the shop in contact with an ever shifting population of workers. It’s given us a window onto these different people’s changing book-buying habits.

First off, we’ve seen the decline of technical books. Since the beginning it’s been our policy not to stock software how-to manuals and such the like as they grow obsolete so quickly, but we have always offered a service ordering specific books that our customers need. As the years have gone on the number of these requests has steadily declined, to the point that now we can go weeks on end without any enquires about technical books at all.

On the flip side of this decline, we have seen a steady increase in sales of science fiction. What is interesting is that our past experience has shown that technical books and science fiction have often gone together – customers with an interest in one would frequently have an interest in the other.

What this suggests to me is that, whilst our customers are looking less and less to print to learn how to do specific things, they are turning to books more often as a form of escape. Several customers who spend their workdays sat at computers have told me that when they get home they want a way to relax which doesn’t involve looking at a screen.

It has always been the job of speculative fiction to look forwards: to imagine, for better or for worse, what will come next. For most of us, the future will mean more time spent at a computer. And as the amount of time that we’re plugged-in steadily increases, the existence of books as a means of respite – as an access to the thrilling sensation of  complete immersion in one’s own imagination – will become more important than ever.

But then, we would say that.

What do you think?


The Bookseller of Silicon Roundabout