DESPITE WESLEY OWEN’S DECISION to close its Birmingham store as the company moves over to online-only operations, the legacy of Christian bookselling in this part of the city is set to continue with CLC Birmingham preparing to move into the vacated premises at Carrs Lane Church Centre.
The shop has a remarkable history spanning 120 years following its foundation in 1893 by the Sunday School Union (which later became the Birmingham Council of Christian Education), trading as My Book Room in Dale End. It moved a short distance in 1920 and was renamed The Book Room, moving again in 1965 to Ethel Street, then finally relocating to Carrs Lane Church Centre in 1970, but always remaining within 400 yards of the original premises.
David Chant, who joined the staff in 1973 and kindly provided the above details, takes up the story:
By the centenary I was only the fourth manager in the shop’s history! In the 80s-90s we had 24 staff, supplied schools and libraries, had a large van on the road full time, and a turnover approaching £1m. The Book Room was taken over in 1997 by Wesley Owen. Very sad it has all ended after so many years, but wonderful that CLC will continue the work.
The timing for CLC is also remarkable: redevelopment works around their Stephenson Street shop have led to massive changes, so that what was once a secondary, out-of-the-way location is now a primary site virtually on the doorstep of the new entrance to Birmingham New Street Railway Station. Weak sales over many months whilst works were in progress have now given way to significantly greater footfall, but occupying a prime location has one major drawback, as Phil Burnham, CLC UK Director explains:
Knowing that prime locations come at a price that will be reflected in the next rent review or new lease (whichever is sooner) and which will be unsustainable for CLC, we have been considering our options since we learned of the station’s redevelopment plan. Our interest in the Wesley Owen site was one of these options, and this was made known to the company about two years ago — a very long time before we or anyone else learned of their intention to withdraw from b&m retail.
The closing of the popular Wesley Owen bookshop, while a source of sadness to all of us involved in b&m retail, affords CLC continuity, sustainability and the opportunity to raise its profile as a trusted supplier and a global mission, to develop its range of products for a wider market and to engage with many new customers. Indeed, in the run-up to the closure of Wesley Owen we had the joy of welcoming many into the bookshop. Our prayer is that we meet the needs of all our customers and that they engage with us not just as consumers but as interested, loyal and prayerful supporters of CLC ministry both in the UK and overseas.
Heads of terms have been agreed with the Carrs Lane landlords, the United Reformed Church, and plans to relocate are now in hand. Once some interior work has been completed on the premises, CLC’s aim is to operate from both locations — Stephenson Street and Carrs Lane — for an initial period, probably commencing in April, before completing the move to Carrs Lane later in the year.
Wholehearted congratulations to CLC on taking this step, with all good wishes and prayers for a smooth transition.