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Norwich book firm at risk as a result of coronavirus lockdown

PUBLISHED: 12:15 04 May 2020 | UPDATED: 17:16 04 May 2020

Bertrams Books. Pic: Archant

Bertrams Books. Pic: Archant

The future of Bertrams Books’ wholesale division is uncertain because of the coronavirus shutdown.

Inside Bertram's Books. Pic: ArchantInside Bertram's Books. Pic: Archant

Owner Aurelius said it was “reviewing its strategic operations” for the Bertram Books division, famously founded in a chicken shed in 1968 and now situated in Broadland Business Park.

But Bertram Books defended its position on social media, tweeting: “Apart from the sale of the businesses announced, there is no change to the operations disclosed at the beginning of April which are in a furloughed state for the forseeable future.”

Founded by the late Elsie Bertram, the firm was sold to private equity giant, German-based Aurelius as Connect Books in 2018 and then reverted to its original name.

But the wholesale division, which supplies to high street bookshops, currently closed because of coronavirus, has itself been shut since April 1. In the past few days Aurelius sold Bertram’s online arm, the bookshop Wordery, to the owner of the Waterstones book chain, Elliott Advisor, and just before that, its library division to an Italian firm.

The late Elsie Bertram who founded Bertram's Books. Pic: ArchantThe late Elsie Bertram who founded Bertram's Books. Pic: Archant

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A statement on the Aurelius website says: “As a result of the economic uncertainty created by Brexit and more recently the Covid-19 pandemic, Aurelius is reviewing its strategic options for the Bertram wholesale division.”

Recently the firm’s chief executive Dirk Markus said the firm was financially stable but that management were taking a 25pc pay cut, adding: “Over the coming weeks and months, we might have to make difficult decisions for some of our portfolio companies.”

Bertram Books, which now employs around 400 people, started in a chicken shed in the garden of Mrs Bertram’s Norwich home before blossoming into the second-largest wholesaler of books in the UK. Mrs Bertram, along with her son Kip, ran the firm and in 1971 it moved into rented warehouse space and began to promise next-day delivery nationwide.

By 1999, when the company was sold out of the family, Mrs Bertram was 86 and it employed more than 700 staff with a turnover of £70m. Mrs Bertram passed away in 2003 and in 2004 the firm moved to its current Norwich headquarters. In 2007 it was bought by the Woolworths Group. In 2009 Woolworths entered administration and Bertrams soon followed, leading Smiths News to purchase it in an £8.6m swoop. Smiths was rebranded as Connect Group in 2014 with Bertram Group becoming Connect Books – and it was then bought by Aurelius for £6m.

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