Ousted bookseller sees gap in market

by
29 December 2008

by Pat Ashworth

Different bag: Mark Clifford has opened a new Christian bookshop in Salisbury

Different bag: Mark Clifford has opened a new Christian bookshop in Salisbury

A NEW Christian bookshop opens in Salisbury tomorrow. The owner is Mark Clifford, a former manager of Church House Bookshop, who was recently made redundant from the Sarum College Bookshop.

Mr Clifford lost his job in a col­lege cost-cutting exercise, having seen sales rise by ten per cent between September 2007 and June 2008. He had taken over a struggling shop with declining sales, and described his three years there as “tough”. Sales rose despite staff cuts last year, and the shop was said to be picking up a great deal of the business of the former SPCK shop in Salisbury after its new owners, the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSG), started bankruptcy proceedings in Texas (News, 13 June 2008). The college’s shop is now being run by its librarians.

The SSG shop is still trading in a limited way in Salisbury, managed by a member of the Brewer family. Mark and Phil Brewer are directors of SSG, an Eastern Orthodox charity based in the US. Many UK suppliers will not deal with SSG, but the Salis­bury and Chichester stores are re­ported to have taken in remaindered books from shops closed by the Brewer brothers. Trading Standards have instructed that SPCK signage is to be removed from the shop front at Salisbury.

Sarum College tried twice to sell the college bookshop to SSG, a move Mr Clifford opposed. The trustees gave him the option last summer of leaving or buying the business him­self, or of someone else’s buying it. It was not prepared to negotiate about the rent. After Mr Clifford announ­ced on 11 August last year that he was going to open his own business, he was given an hour to leave, he said.

The new shop will eventually have two trading floors, he says. “Salis­bury needs a city-centre Christian bookshop, and I think we’ve got the knowledge and experience to pro­vide a really good service. The book trade has got excited by it, and I have tremendous support from publishers and suppliers.”

Restricted covenants limit former SPCK shops to bookselling with a broad Christian tradition. The Brewer brothers tried unsuccessfully to sell many of the shops in April 2008. They sold the Exeter shop in September 2008 for £507,000. It is now GemStar Jewellery and Gifts.

Thirty former employees of SPCK Bookshops are taking their cases to an employment tribunal (News, 12 September 2008). Pensions, treat­ment of staff, payment to creditors, responsibility for leases, and legal threats are all issues as yet unre­solved in what one former employee has described as a “trail of damage and despair”. The SPCK mission society is no longer involved with any of the business of the SSG shops.

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