Church Street Bookshop faces uncertain future
If you’ve ever been to the second-hand book haven that is Stoke Newington’s Church Street Bookshop, or if you’ve ever meant to, if you’ve walked past with a longing backward glance and filed a mental note to return, then here’s the mad, sad, awful story: Hackney Council has received a planning application to redevelop the site into a large restaurant/retail area. If the application is approved, Church Street Bookshop will be forced to close.
It’s yet another example of the small avalanche of independent bookstores closing across the UK in recent years. These are the shops stocked by thinking, reading humans rather than sales professionals armed with bestseller lists. They’re the shops that promote emerging writers, host literary events, or provide cash-strapped bookworms with their daily (b)read. Whatever their focus – be it old or new books, politics, romance, crime or history, fiction, fact or fantasy – independent bookstores play an integral role in the chain from author to publisher to public and, by extension, community.
A quick glance over the Booksellers Association’s report on international market comparisons shows the extent of the difficulties faced by independent bookstores. There’s competition from all angles: bargain bookshops, supermarkets, online behemoths like Amazon, e-books and e-readers, and other forms of entertainment like music and video games that make people less likely to read. Not to mention the expenses of renting in London, or the fact that the kinds of discounts available online or in chain stores with bulk-buying powers tends to create artificially low price expectations in the minds of buyers – thus discouraging them further. Really, it’s a small wonder that over a thousand independent bookstores were still trading at the end of last year.
This makes the Church Street planning application all the more disappointing. Despite the pressures faced by bookstores everywhere, the Church Street Bookshop has been trading for more than 20 years. It would be a terrible loss if, yet another bookstore were to close just to make way for a restaurant or two.
If Hackney Council receives enough objections, the proposal will be rejected. If you would like to lodge an objection you can do it here until 13th August.