20 April 2009

Only a bookshop but one more is gone... Part 2. Bibliocide.

STOP PRESS In last week's Guardian the actor, writer and bookshop frequenter Simon Callow wrote:
'...The bibliocide in the Charing Cross Road continues its depressing course apparently unchecked. The one gleam of light is the reinvention of Foyles, which has now become a very enterprising outfit, its stock, and indeed its general layout, informed by discernible individual taste. But a block further down the road, beyond Cambridge Circus, in what was once the heart of the book village, glumness is everywhere, the most recent losses being Murder Inc and Shipley's three excellent art book shops. Two Zwemmer's shops are long gone. In their places spring up Chinese herbalists, poster shops and coffee houses, all of which no doubt cater to pressing needs; meanwhile the character of the area is being fundamentally undermined. Soon, like the block it faces, it will be just another outpost of Oxford Street. The excellent Henry Pordes and Any Amount of Books hold up gallantly, with Quinto on the corner, but their backs are against the wall. The bitter irony of all this is that the block is owned by a charity, the Soho Housing Association, whose charter demands that it raise the most money it possibly can: it is by definition committed to trashing the area.

Further down Charing Cross Road, all traces of the bookselling trade have been eliminated, except for one astonishing enclave, Cecil Court, where, as if in a time machine, the book trade flourishes as it once did. There are several very good shops in it that don't sell books - an original poster shop; an excellent shop selling prints; Tim Bryars's antique map shop; Mark Sullivan's wonderful emporium of bibelots. But for the rest, there is richness to gladden any bibliophile's heart: Pleasures of Past Times, David Drummond's incomparable theatre bookshop; Nigel Williams's rare books; modern first editions specialists Tindley & Chapman; Marchpane, an Aladdin's cave of a children's bookshop; a very snazzy Italian bookshop; Watkins's esoteric bookshop (a little more new age than it was, but stocked to the rafters with genuine arcana), to name only a few. It stands as a model of what a commercial district can be: it celebrates what it sells; it is an entertainment in itself; every shop is run by an individual whose tastes are absolutely personal and identifiable; the love of the trade is palpable. Nobody here is making a fortune; to survive respectably is all anyone asks.

So naturally it is under threat. Though the government has backed off from raising the business rate by a full 5% this year, a 2% rise, to be followed by a further 3% in the next two years, will wipe out the tiny profit margin that keeps businesses of this sort alive. What these shops need is more meaningful business-rate relief. Write, urgently, to the local MP Mark Field, who is masterminding a campaign to save one of the capital's last oases of real bookselling.'


Mark Field MP
House of Commons

The indispensable TLS picked up on this story and also warn of the threat to this 'uniquely bibliophiliac stretch of Charing Cross Road.' All power to Mark Field for working on this case, not necessarily a cause that will win votes but part of the the energy and dauntless spirit of London's centre and (let's not play it down) our heritage of the entire world of books, knowledge, wisdom and whimsy; no less.


Anonymous said...

I like the great Simon's malapropism Murder Inc., (for Murder One).

Under that name surely they would have been too dangerous to meddle with. I am with you in this decent cause and will right to the Right Hon Mark Field. Val.

Anonymous said...

Can foreigners write to Mark Fields? I visit the Cecil Court bookshops (and the ones in Charing Cross Road, including yours) on every visit to London.


Bookride said...

Yes indeed Patrick, people can write from anywhere in the known world. In a way support from far away lends further weight to our case. Thanks for that. Nigel

Edwin Moore said...

Have emailed Mark Field via his website - I am a Glasgow resident but these London shops add to the quality of my life!