Phoenix Rising

With the near-total collapse of the former SPCK/St Stephen the Great Bookshops under the auspices of brothers Phil & Mark Brewer and with Sarum College Bookshop in meltdown — or not, depending on your point of view — it would be easy to become despondent over the state of Christian bookselling here in the UK. Is it all really going down the pan?

In a word, no. At least seven, possibly eight, new shops and businesses have risen or are now rising from the ashes of SPCK’s ruin, harnessing much of the expertise of the booksellers treated with such contempt by the Brewers and restoring much of what the Christian communities in those areas have been deprived of.

Melanie Carroll was amongst the first to make a comeback as an independent bookseller in Lincoln with Unicorn Tree Books in the Central Market. Melanie was the manager of both SPCK Lincoln and before both were effectively destroyed by the Brewers: her story emerges bit by bit in the Unicorn Tree Books Blog as well as in her comments posted here.

Leicester managed to break free from the Brewers in November 2007 as reported in the St Paul’s Oadby blog, a story soon picked up by Dave Walker. Questions were raised: was the Leicester shop truly independent or were the Brewers playing fast and loose with leaseholds via a franchise? Eventually, in June this year, the shop’s new owner, the Revd Peter Hebden, put an end to speculation with a declaration via a comment on the SPCK/SSG Blog that the shop was indeed truly independent. The shop is now trading as Christian Resources, Leicester.

In Cardiff, City United Reformed Church — who had hosted SPCK for many years after the rising cost of city rents meant that they were unable afford their previous premises — became so angry over the Brewers’ shenanigans that they simply locked them out whilst they drew up plans for a new shop. Again, the SPCK/SSG Blog comments section became the place where the story was told. Churches Together Bookshop was opened on July 22nd 2008.

Truro Christian Bookshop - Excerpt from the Truro Coracle, July 2008

Truro Christian Bookshop - Excerpt from the Truro Coracle, July 2008

The SPCK/SSG Truro branch changed hands early this year and has been trading independently since 1st February 2008 as Truro Christian Bookshop. This was reported in the July 2008 edition of The Coracle, Truro’s Diocesan newsletter, and once more noted by a visitor via a comment in the SPCK/SSG Blog.

Update: In June 2009 news emerged that Truro Christian Bookshop had been put up for sale due to the manager’s ill-health. The current status of the shop is unknown.

In Birmingham, Annette Anderson, former SPCK branch manager, has established The Gift Centre in the Indoor Market on Edgbaston Street, from where she offers a full range of Christian and inspirational cards and gifts, children’s books, and a selection of church requisites such as incense and charcoal, helping to fill the gap left by SPCK’s closure.

In Norwich, former branch manager Steve Foyster has plans well underway to resurrect the former shop and café as a new company to trade as Norwich Christian Resource Centre. Earlier this month Network Norwich reported that “Virtually all the ex-shop and cafe staff will be re-employed at the new centre, which has been one of Steve’s other hopes over the past months.” More info may be found in the Diocese of Norwich Clergy Mailing, 7 August 2008: Christian Resource Centre set for resurrection.

The gap left by SPCK’s demise in Exeter has been at least part-filled by Bridge Books, a new independent shop opened in July by John & Margaret Robertson in what looks to be a superb location overlooking the river at Okehampton Street, just a short walk away from the city centre.

Finally, we come full circle back to Salisbury: the optimism expressed by Sarum College over the future of their bookshop under the “stewardship” of librarian Jenny Monds may or may not be misplaced. If the shop survives, it will certainly owe that survival at least in part to the demise of SPCK Salisbury; and we can be certain that Salisbury hasn’t seen the last of Sarum’s former bookshop manager, Mark Clifford: booksellers of Mark’s calibre don’t simply crawl away and die — as Mark himself has said, watch this space…

High Street Christian bookselling on the way out? Don’t believe a word of it!

And if you’d like to help liberate another Christian bookshop from the Brewers’ increasingly desperate grip, please consider signing the SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info petition, Rescuing Britain’s Christian Heritage: Durham Cathedral Bookshop.