Former SPCK shops to be auctioned

23 April 2008

by Dave Walker

Empty shelves: the display at Faith House, Westminster, seen through the window last week

Empty shelves: the display at Faith House, Westminster, seen through the window last week

THE US Orthodox charity St Stephen the Great (SSG) has put four of its former SPCK bookshops up for sale. A number of its other bookshops have been closed, including the Westminster branch at Faith House.

The Bradford, Canterbury, Exeter, and York shops are to be auctioned by Colliers CRE in London on 13 May. These properties are believed to be four of the five that SSG owns freehold. They were given to SSG in October 2006 by SPCK, the Anglican publisher and mission agency, complete with fixtures, fittings, and stock.

SSG leases a further six shops from SPCK at peppercorn rents. The freeholds to these properties will be transferred to SSG after seven years “if the SPCK Bookshops Group remains in operation on an agreed basis” (SPCK annual report 2007). These shops are understood to be in Chester, Hereford, Newcastle, Salisbury, Winchester, and Worcester.

The Westminster bookshop at Faith House was closed on 11 April. The shop, opposite Church House and close to Westminster Abbey, was also the home of SPCK’s Antiquarian and Rare bookshop, formerly Charles Higham, established in 1862 and acquired by SPCK in 1976.

The Cambridge shop is being advertised as available to let, implying that it, too, will be closed soon. The rent, £54,000 per annum, is believed to be the highest of any of the shops. New tenants are also being sought for the building occupied by the Lincoln shop, closed in March.

In a recent briefing, Mark Brewer, one of the two Texan brothers who head SSG, stated that the charity had experienced cashflow difficulties, but that some of the shops were thriving. He cited the examples of the Chichester and Durham Cathedral shops.

“These shops’ sales have remained strong throughout the past two financial quarters and have been profitable — thus proving the viability of Christian bookselling in the United Kingdom, and disproving the argument that we Brewers are the problem, he said.”

Since the transfer from SPCK to SSG, there have been many complaints by former staff members about their treatment (2 November 2007, 8 February 2008). The Bookseller (3 April) reports that the shopworkers’ union USDAW is preparing at least 20 claims against SSG to be sent to an industrial tribunal. The first case will be heard on 9 June.

There is some hope for the future at the Cardiff shop, located inside the City United Reformed Church, and closed at the end of March, along with the Bristol and Carlisle branches. The church is planning to reopen the shop under a new ecumenical management board in July.

On Wednesday, St Paul’s, the Roman Catholic bookshop chain, announced that it will be opening a shop at 5 King’s Square in the centre of York in September.

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